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Back-to-back storms will bring rain, potential for debris flows in burn areas

Back-to-back storms will bring rain, potential for debris flows in burn areas
A pedestrian is reflected in a window along a sidewalk in Los Angeles during the last series of storms in January. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The first of three back-to-back winter storms will arrive in Southern California Thursday morning, bringing the potential for heavy rain along with a chance of debris flows and flooding in areas recently ravaged by wildfires, the National Weather Service said.

The first storm, arriving by noon Thursday, will be fairly light — dropping a quarter of an inch to an inch of rain in Los Angeles County. Possible thunderstorms, however, could bring heavier rain to some regions, said Lisa Phillips, a meteorologist intern with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

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The Southland will have a short break from wet weather during the day Friday before a stronger system moves into the region that night. That storm has the potential to bring gusty southeast winds up to 60 mph and dump 1 to 3 inches of rain through Saturday in Los Angeles County. It may also bring snow to higher elevations.

“The impacts we’re looking at are downed trees, travel delays and possible shallow debris flows,” Phillips said. “The second storm is the one where you want to stay home.”

A much weaker third storm arriving Sunday will bring scattered showers that could linger through Monday, forecasters said.

No evacuations have been ordered for the burn areas in Los Angeles or Orange counties. But late Wednesday, Riverside County officials issued a voluntary evacuation warning for residents affected by the Holy fire and said those in the burn zone from last year’s Cranston fire should also prepare to leave in case heavy rain triggers debris flows. The situation is becoming common for those areas where residents have been told to evacuate during past storms.

Forecasters said the storm series also will bring fresh snow — up to 3 feet — in the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada.

The continuing wet weather, which often creates headaches for commuters, is welcome news for officials tracking the state’s water supply. Storms that have swept through California in recent weeks have brought enough rain to put the state’s reservoirs at or above average levels.

“We’re a little bit above average for the water year,” said Emily Heller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. “It’s turning out to be pretty good with no major flooding or damage from these storms.”

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