Lightning, Hail Hit Some Cities : Storm: Weird weather system washes out Tet festival, floods some streets and snarls traffic. A golfer is struck by lightning.


A Navy petty officer golfing in Cypress was struck in the face by lightning Saturday as rain returned to Orange County, ruining a Vietnamese New Year’s celebration in Westminster, flooding streets and pelting some areas with hail the size of large marbles.

Jerry Williams, 27, stationed at Terminal Island in Long Beach, was in stable condition Saturday after lightning hit him in the face as he stood under a tree eating an apple about 1 p.m. at the Naval Base Golf Course at Los Alamitos Armed Forces Reserve Center, officials said.

Others golfing with Williams were not hit.

Williams, who was near the ninth hole and in the middle of a golf game, apparently ducked under the tree for protection from the rain. While authorities warn that trees are conductors for lightning during thunderstorms, it was not known whether the golfers were aware of the possible danger.


“First it hit the tree, then it hit him in the face and it went out his back--it left a burn hole,” said Joe Grohman, assistant golf pro. “It blew up his hat and shredded his jacket. He was in a lot of pain but doing OK.”

Williams, listed in stable condition at Los Alamitos Medical Center, declined interviews.

At mid-afternoon Saturday, when the New Year’s celebration would normally be at its height, workers at the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce Tet festival in Little Saigon were busy shoveling water out of flooded booths and covering stuffed animals and other prizes with plastic bags.

“Everything is ruined,” said Ton Dien, a fire-prevention inspector who was tending a booth for the Westminster Fire Department. The fair was crowded in the early morning, but the downpour cleared people out in a hurry, he said.


“Everybody ran,” Dien said.

The sporadic rains came as Orange County was beginning to dry out from a series of storms earlier this month that claimed two lives and caused more than $40 million in damage countywide, including Laguna Beach, Anaheim Hills and San Clemente, where hillside homes suffered flood damage or slid from rain-soaked ground.

Saturday’s storm did not cause more damage in those areas, but officials continued to monitor the sites.

Meteorologist Steve Burback of WeatherData Inc. told The Times that the rain and hail were caused by an unusual weather pattern that combined a high-level, low pressure-system and cold temperatures.

“Its causes unstable conditions” that create hail, Burback said. “Hail is somewhat unusual, but it’s not unheard of for the area,” said Burback, who noted that hail also had been reported in isolated areas during the most recent storms.

Burback said he expected the showers to clear by late today.

Caltrans officials working on northbound Interstate 5 between Crown Valley and Alicia parkways called off pothole repair work early Saturday after rain clouds began approaching, which was just as well for motorists caught in heavy traffic due to the roadwork.

The rain and hail Saturday triggered many traffic accidents but no major collisions, police in various cities reported.


The rain also caused flooding of streets in Orange, Costa Mesa, Westminster and other areas. Traffic lights were reported out in Santa Ana and Westminster, bogging down traffic already slowed by partially flooded streets.

Dark rain clouds cut an unusual swath across the county: While large hail mixed with rain in Orange and Westminster shortly after noon Saturday, San Clemente and Laguna Beach police reported sunny skies.

Hail landed with such force in Costa Mesa that the icy pellets set off several car alarms at South Coast Plaza.

The rain dampened spirits at the Tet festival, where many organizers worried that the downpour would mean losses in needed revenue.

Sonny Vu was wondering if he could get back the $1,000 rent of his booth.

“If no one shows up, we’ll lose money,” he said.

Dr. Co Pham, an organizer of the event, said he may ask the Westminster City Council to extend the festival into next weekend to help the booth renters drum up some business.

On Friday, the fair drew about 9,000 people, Pham said. He had hoped to draw 40,000 to 60,000 people over the weekend. The organizers need to draw 50,000 to break even, Pham said.