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Wet Christmas: Winter weather arriving in L.A. just in time for the holidays

A view from Griffith Park of the Griffith Park Observatory and the downtown skyline at dusk on the last day of autumn.
Dusk settles in over the city in a view from above the Griffith Park Observatory on the last day of autumn. A series of storms are headed for the Southland just in time for the Christmas holiday.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The first day of winter arrived in Southern California on Tuesday with a chill and the promise of wind, rain and snow, just in time for the holidays.

A storm system spinning off the coast of Northern California is gathering strength and will soon begin moving toward the lower part of the state, the National Weather Service said.

The system is expected to drop heaps of snow across the Sierra Nevada, where winter storm warnings are already in effect, as are concerns about snarled holiday travel and hazardous delays.

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Tuesday — the winter solstice — is also the shortest day of the year, with only about 10 hours of daylight in Southern California. Days will begin getting longer on Wednesday.

Winter storm warnings have been issued for several areas in the Sierra Nevada. Forecasters warn holiday travelers to be prepared.

The Southland can expect cool, cloudy weather until the storm approaches later in the week. It’s not clear yet when the rain will arrive because the system contains several storms that are all getting “slammed together,” according to David Sweet, a meteorologist with the weather service in Oxnard.

“This pattern is very difficult for the forecast models to handle, so because of that, there’s a great deal of uncertainty on the exact timing,” he said. “I would say there’s low confidence in the timing, but pretty good confidence in the fact that rain is on its way.”

The latest forecasts indicate that rain will begin falling in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties on Thursday, Sweet said.

The front should reach Los Angeles County on Friday morning, with rainfall likely to increase in intensity as the day wears on, he said.

Officials say travel delays, localized flooding and debris flows are possible and motorists should take precautions on mountain roads.

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Up to 1.5 inches of precipitation is expected across the coasts and valleys, and 3 inches in the mountains.

Snow levels should remain high through Friday afternoon, then start to drop to about 5,500 feet as the plume moves south.

Temperatures will remain in the low to mid-60s through Wednesday and turn even cooler on Thursday and Friday, with a chance of gusty winds. Forecasters say it will be a chilly holiday weekend, with temperatures in the 50s in Los Angeles and a 50% chance of rain on Christmas Day.

Meanwhile, the system will clear out Saturday and into Sunday as it continues its journey south toward Baja California.

Looking further ahead, officials said another system could drop down the California coast ahead of New Year’s Eve.

Sweet said next week’s storm could be a real “humdinger” because it looks to be slow-moving, which means it could deliver a sustained period of moderate to heavy rain across the Los Angeles area as it hovers over the region.

Models show a substantially cold, low-pressure system could form over Washington or Oregon next week, “with the coldest event of the season impacting much of the West,” forecasters said.


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