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‘A change of seasons’ brings rain, chill and even snow to parts of California

Workers walk ahead of gathering clouds.
Crews finish cleaning oil from Bolsa Chica State Beach ahead of gathering storm clouds on Monday. Another weather front is headed for the state, with rain forecasted in Southern California and snow in Northern California.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

After a seemingly interminable spate of record-breaking heat, worsening drought and frequent wildfires, portions of California will experience a noticeable shift in the form of wintery weather, the National Weather Service said.

A cooling system is expected to sweep across much of the state, delivering rain from San Diego to Los Angeles and snow in areas farther north. Already, the California Department of Transportation has announced the closure of multiple mountain passes in the Sierra ahead of a winter storm.

“It’s kind of like the change of seasons — it’s going to feel like that,” said Joe Sirard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Residents in Southern California will see little sun Thursday as a cloudy cold front moves in from the west. Most maximum temperatures across the coasts and valleys will be 5 to 10 degrees below normal, Sirard said, with the Los Angeles area dipping into the low 60s by the end of the work week.

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Patchy rain is expected to fall from San Diego to Orange County on Thursday, and by the early hours of Friday morning, light rain will start sweeping through southern L.A. County and into the eastern valleys of Ventura County.

Rainfall amounts in the L.A. area likely won’t top a quarter of an inch, though, and those hoping for a repeat of Monday’s lightning show will be underwhelmed as thunderstorms are not expected, forecasters said.

Shortly after noon Thursday, intermittent drizzle began in San Clemente.

“Uh-oh,” one man told his friend as they walked out of the Fisherman’s Restaurant on the San Clemente Pier. “Look at what we have!”

The rain started slowly but picked up for a spell, prompting some beachgoers to zip up their jackets. The brief moisture didn’t last long, though, as the sun slowly peeked out behind gray clouds and tiny water droplets decorating car windshields were the only remnants of rain.

Crews in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach are trying to protect coastlines as much as possible ahead of an approaching storm.

While many may welcome even the slightest hint of moisture, it’s not all good news. Some experts are concerned that winds and rain over the Orange County oil spill could contribute to choppy oceans and smear-spreading gusts, which could hamper cleanup efforts and make the oil slick grow.

“How big the spread is kind of depends on the forces of nature that we don’t have a lot of control over,” Deborah Sivas, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Law School, told The Times.

Crews are scrambling to clear chunks of sticky crude from the coastline and prevent further damage to valuable wetlands and vulnerable wildlife.

The cause of the 144,000-gallon spill remains under intense investigation.

Meanwhile, Central and Northern Californians — many of whom bore the brunt of the summer’s heat and fires — should see a notable shift in the weather as they head into the weekend.

Afternoon temperatures from San Francisco to Sacramento will be at least 5 degrees cooler than normal on Thursday and even colder Friday, when highs in several areas should top out in the mid-60s, forecasters said.

In the Tahoe area, as well as Mono County and the High Sierra, temperatures will be even lower, in the 40s and 50s by Friday, said Heather Richards, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno.

Scattered showers and breezy winds are expected in the northern Sierra and southern Cascades through Friday, with up to 3 inches of snow possible in higher-elevation areas.

“Any little bit that we get is absolutely welcome,” Richards said.

A second system next week could be even stronger, she added, bringing the possibility of snow showers and a hard freeze to the Sierra and western Nevada valleys.

The National Weather Service has issued a special weather statement warning of wetter weather in the days to come, including periods of rain and snow showers in several eastern Sierra counties.

CalTrans said the Sonora Pass on State Route 108 and Ebbett Pass on State Route 4 will close at noon Thursday. Monitor Pass on State Route 89 will close at 2 p.m., and State Route 120 West will close at 5 p.m.

The roads will be reevaluated Saturday, the agency said.

Drought-stricken California has equal chances of normal temperatures and precipitation.

In Los Angeles, conditions should dry out and warm up again by the weekend, forecasters said.

But new outlook maps issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the month of October show some signs of relief after a long, hot summer.

Temperature ranges in the West will approach average — an improvement for a region that spent months in the “hotter-than-average” category — while the odds of a wetter-than-average month are promising.

The outlook for the ongoing drought remains grim, however, with indications that overall dryness in the West will continue or worsen.

Sirard, the meteorologist in Oxnard, also warned that October is Santa Ana winds season, which often brings increased threats of wildfire.

“I would anticipate that between now through November, we’ll probably have some warm, dry offshore flow at times,” he said. “It might still feel like fall, but with gusty winds coming in.”

Times staff writers Priscella Vega and Paul Duginski contributed to this report.


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