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Snow falls in California as powerful winter storm gathers strength

People are silhouetted by a sunset as patchy clouds give way to clear sky.
Rain clouds drift over Signal Hill as a storm clears out of the Los Angeles Basin on Thursday. The jet stream is expected to push a stronger storm into Southern California early next week.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Parts of California got a taste of winter Friday as cold weather and snow piled up in several mountain areas, but the biggest dose is slated to arrive next week in the form of a powerful seasonal storm, officials said.

Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort issued a “fresh snow alert” Friday morning celebrating about 10 inches of new powder, while the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab reported more than 5 inches in the Lake Tahoe area.

Southern skiers were also rejoicing as about 3 inches of snow had piled up around Big Bear Mountain Resort.

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The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued a cold weather alert in several areas — including the Santa Clarita, Antelope and San Fernando valleys and the Los Angeles city mountains — where low temperatures could dip below freezing during the weekend.

A hard freeze warning also will be in effect in the Antelope Valley on Friday night, and freeze and frost advisories are in effect for portions of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties through Saturday.

During cold spells, residents are advised to dress warmly, bring pets indoors and check on family members, friends and neighbors with limited access to heat. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has a winter shelter program for those who need assistance.

“Children, the elderly and people with disabilities or special medical needs are especially vulnerable during cold weather,” Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said in a news release about the cold weather alert. “Extra precaution should be taken to ensure they don’t get too cold when they are outside.”

The National Weather Service warned that the cool, dry weekend will give way to an incoming winter storm that will drop heavy rain, gusty winds and more mountain snow beginning Monday.

Calling it the “most significant storm of the season,” officials said precipitation amounts could be two to three times more than October’s atmospheric river, which broke rainfall records across the state.

Forecasts in the L.A. area call for up to 3 inches of rain near the coasts and 5 inches inland, with up to 1.5 inches in the deserts.

Forecasters expect that rain will develop on the Central Coast on Monday and increase overnight, with light showers possible elsewhere Monday afternoon. Showers will come Tuesday, with the possibility of brief heavy showers north of Point Conception and moderate to heavy rain south of Point Conception to Los Angeles County for most of the day.

The main rain band is expected to move through L.A. County on Tuesday afternoon with brief heavy downpours. The chance of thunderstorms, which can be accompanied by heavy downpours, is less than 10%.

Rain and snow showers, with some brief heavy showers, are likely through Tuesday evening. Showers may linger early Wednesday, but the day is expected to be mostly dry.

The effects of next week’s storm are likely to include travel delays, potential for debris flows in recent burn areas, localized flooding, mud and rock slides on mountain roads, and hazardous winter driving conditions in the mountains around 5,000 feet, the weather service said.

Peak rain rates late Monday into early Tuesday will be about a quarter to three-quarters of an inch per hour. Isolated rates of an inch per hour are possible, raising concerns primarily about mud and debris flows in the burn scar from October’s Alisal fire in Santa Barbara County, but burn scars from recent fires in the Angeles National Forest and the Santa Monica Mountains will also bear watching.

Snow is expected in the mountains, with 1 to 2 feet of accumulation above 7,000 feet. As the snow level lowers, 1 to 3 inches of snow are possible down to about 4,500 feet. Snow is not expected to affect the major highway corridors; Tejon Pass, where the 5 Freeway crosses the Tehachapi Mountains, is at 4,100 feet, and Soledad Pass, the 14 Freeway’s route to the Antelope Valley, is at 3,200 feet.

South to southwest winds will gust from 30 to 45 mph in the coastal areas and the mountains Monday, then switch to north to northwest late Tuesday. West-facing beaches in L.A. and Ventura counties can expect 6- to 9-foot surf.

New research has found that winters of low snow, or even no snow, could become a regular occurrence in California in as little as 35 years.

Mike Woffard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, said precipitation amounts will be “more than we would normally get” but won’t be enough to bust the drought.

“It’s a nice start, but we’ve got a long way to go,” he said.

The U.S. winter outlook issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls for a La Niña event this year, which indicates drier than normal conditions. Seasonal forecasts show the likelihood of above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation in Southern California.

“The forecast of the La Niña is not exactly favorable for long-term drought conditions,” Woffard said.

Researchers recently found that snowpack across California is rapidly diminishing and that winters of low snow — or even no snow — could become a regular occurrence in the state in as little as 35 years.

But for now, at least, residents can enjoy a few days of relatively benign weather and fresh powder, officials said.

In downtown Los Angeles, clouds on Friday will give way to sunny skies, and maximum temperatures will rise slightly, landing around the mid-60s throughout the weekend.


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