Thunder, lightning and rain pelted Southern California on Monday, snarling the morning commute as motorists navigated blinding hail and flooded roads.
At Los Angeles International Airport, power was briefly knocked out, causing air traffic controllers to divert two planes to Ontario Airport. Other arrivals and departures were delayed, but airport officials reported no cancellations.
“It’s not spectacular, but it’s a healthy storm,” said Alex Tardy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
At least two lightning-related tree fires ignited Monday morning, said Brian Humphrey, spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department. The blazes did not threaten homes or structures.
“Just saw a tree getting struck by lightning and setting on fire on my way to work,” said computer engineer Ken Chung in a tweet that included video of a palm tree ablaze above a neighborhood of apartment buildings in Koreatown.
Many expressed hope that El Niño-driven rains might finally douse the drought-parched state after one of the hottest Februaries on record in Southern California.
The crippling four-year drought has killed millions of trees and cost the state’s agricultural economy an estimated $1.84 billion.
Forecasters said more rain is possible in the Los Angeles Basin on Friday and March 14, and they reported promising levels of rainfall from Monday’s storm.
By midday, nearly half an inch of rain had fallen in downtown Los Angeles, Van Nuys and San Dimas.
The storm brought pea-size hail to parts of the Southland, covering areas near Sierra Madre and Altadena, said Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.
The system also brought strong winds, with reports of gusts up to 64 mph near Point Mugu in the Santa Monica Mountains and 50 mph in other mountain areas, Seto said.
In San Diego County, Solana Beach reported gusts of 57 mph and Imperial Beach 48 mph, Tardy said.
A flash-flood warning was issued for the Solimar burn area north of Ventura near the 101 Freeway, but serious flooding did not materialize.
But it was Northern California that bore the worst of the storm.
The California Highway Patrol shut down Interstate 80 at Donner Pass late Sunday because of blizzard conditions.
As for ski resorts, National Weather Service meteorologist Brian O’Hara said that Sugar Bowl received 33 inches of snow overnight while Northstar logged about 10 inches. Mammoth Mountain recorded 7 inches of snow over 24 hours.
In Yuba County over the weekend, Chia Xiong, 51, of Marysville died after becoming trapped in a car submerged in 6 to 8 feet of floodwater on a highway.
The driver, who was able to get out of the car, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter, CHP Officer Jodie Beck said. The driver’s name was not released.