Storm takes freezing turn

Blankstein, Esquivel and Olivarez-Giles are Times staff writers.

Heavy rain and snow are expected to be replaced by sub-freezing temperatures in some areas of Southern California after the first major storm of the season pummeled the region Monday, triggering evacuations in some burn areas, collapsing the roof of a school and causing at least two traffic fatalities.

The storm dumped more than 2 inches of rain in some areas, including Beverly Hills, and nearly 2 feet of snow in the mountains, said Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service. Scattered showers and thunderstorms are expected through Wednesday afternoon as the massive storm system begins moving out of the area.

“This is atypical for this time of year, a very cold Alaskan storm that carries significant rain,” Seto said. “As it moves through, temperatures are going to be significantly colder than normal.”


Temperatures are expected to drop into the mid-30s throughout the region by late Wednesday, but some areas, including the Antelope Valley in Los Angeles County and portions of inland Ventura County, could see the mercury dip even lower, Seto said.

Avocado and citrus growers are prepared in the event that temperatures plunge into the upper-20s late Thursday, said John Krist, chief executive of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County. A January 2007 freeze resulted in an estimated $1.3 billion in county crop losses.

But this week’s cold snap is expected to be brief and -- with proper precautions -- unlikely to cause significant damage, Krist said. “It will be chilly but we don’t expect to see much, if any, real crop damage from it.”

On Monday, the winter storm’s heavy rains wreaked havoc across the region.

In Anaheim, 13 people were taken to local hospitals after the roof collapsed at the North Orange County Regional Occupational Program building while students were inside, authorities said. One of four main drains of the 20,000-square-foot structure was not working, causing water to accumulate on the roof, said Maria Sabol, spokeswoman for the Anaheim Fire Department.

One woman was trapped under roof debris and had to be extricated, Sabol said. Other victims reported back injuries, difficulty breathing, sore shoulders and anxiety, she said.

In Hacienda Heights, California Highway Patrol Officer Joseph Sanders was responding to a rain-related single-car crash on the eastbound 60 Freeway about 4:30 a.m. Monday when he was struck by another car and killed, authorities said. Sanders, 29, was setting down flares at the scene when two other vehicles crashed and skidded out of control, and one vehicle struck the officer.

Sanders, a father of three who began his career as a CHP officer 14 months ago after having served in the Marine Corps in Iraq, was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead from his injuries, authorities said. His wife is pregnant with their fourth child.

The accident forced the closure of the eastbound freeway for almost 11 hours.

In Santa Barbara County, a mudslide was reported about 6 a.m. in the burn areas around Montecito near Westmont College, said Steven Van Horn, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. No injuries or damage has been reported, Van Horn said.

In east San Diego, one person was killed and another injured when an armored truck flipped over and rolled down an embankment on a transition road between California 94 and Interstate 15, authorities said. The crash was rain-related.

Meanwhile, flash-flood warnings were issued in areas of the San Fernando Valley, Griffith Park and Santa Barbara County charred in last month’s wildfires, according to the National Weather Service. In Orange County, mandatory evacuation orders were temporarily issued for burn areas around Yorba Linda.

Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Greg McKeown said officials were monitoring the hillsides for any movement. As of late Monday, no major mudslides had been reported.

“The more saturated these hillsides become, the more likely a mudslide or debris flow is,” he said, standing at the end of a cul-de-sac looking at fire-scorched hillsides, “We are worried about heavy rain in a short amount of time.”

Snow fell to below 4,000 feet in some mountain areas, causing schools to close in the San Bernardino Mountains. The storm also caused major congestion in some mountain passes, including along I-15, where motorists reported whiteout conditions.

Los Angeles officials closed the Sepulveda Basin because of rising water levels. Several streets in an area bounded by Victory Boulevard to the north, Burbank Boulevard to the south, Balboa Boulevard to the west and the 405 Freeway to the east were temporarily closed, said Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Ben Loewellyn.

A two-vehicle collision on the westbound Santa Monica Freeway left a 65-year-old woman dead when the car she was traveling in flipped over about 4 p.m., authorities said. Three others were treated for moderate injuries.

It was unclear whether the accident was rain-related.

The National Weather Service issued a warning of possible coastal flooding in Seal Beach, Sunset Beach and parts of San Diego County.

This week’s storm is a dramatic break from the prevailing weather pattern, where frigid, dry air from Canada, which normally flows from West to East, plunged south along the Pacific Coast, colliding with warm, moist air over the ocean.

It was a “jet stream on steroids,” said William Patzert, a climatologist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge. The result was a good soaking, he said.

But Patzert cautioned that the storm was not likely to break the region’s years-long drought.

“This is not going to be El Nino rain,” Patzert said, referring to the pattern of ocean warming that leads to heavy downpours in the western United States. “We like it, we needed it, but don’t get your hopes up.”




Times staff writers Tony Barboza, Christine Hanley, Victoria Kim, Tony Perry and Richard Winton contributed to this story.



Monday rainfall

Long Beach Airport: 1.38 inches*

LAX: 1.89 inches*

Claremont: 1.91 inches

Brea: 2.09 inches

UCLA: 2.60 inches*

*Denotes record for the day

Source: National Weather Service