Rare May storm brings record-setting rain to Southern California

Lauren Lewis takes a walk around Lake Balboa in Encino as light rain continues Thursday.
Lauren Lewis takes a walk around Lake Balboa in Encino as light rain continues Thursday.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

An unusually wet spring storm that began sprinkling — and sometimes dumping — rain on Los Angeles early Thursday has already shattered at least one precipitation record in California and is poised to break a few more, forecasters say.

The unseasonably late low-pressure system that moved into the northern part of the state Wednesday from the Gulf of Alaska and into Southern California early Thursday lingered into the afternoon, bringing between one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch of rain across much of the Southland.

Since historically May 16 isn’t a very wet day, forecasters expected the rainfall to set some daily precipitation records. Some fell quickly.

The National Weather Service office in Oxnard had received nearly half an inch of rain by 5 a.m., breaking the previous record of 0.04 set in 2011.

“We just clobbered that record,” said Lisa Phillips, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.


“Some of these places have low numbers, so it’s not going to be difficult to break those records because they’re pretty unimpressive records,” Phillips said.

By the time the storm moved out, downtown Los Angeles had received 0.48 inches of rain, breaking the record of 0.04 for the date set in 1994. Other areas that saw records included LAX, Burbank and Long Beach. Records for the date were also broken in Orange and San Diego counties, as well as the Inland Empire.

The rain slowed the morning commute and prompted the rescue of two people stranded on an island of the Los Angeles River in Atwater Village.

“In April we’d have low-pressure systems move through and instead of bringing a lot of rain they’d barely give us anything,” Phillips said. “This system is a little different in that we are getting significant moisture with it. It’s definitely out of the norm.”

The low-pressure system comes on the heels of an extremely wet winter in California. A series of atmospheric river storms that hit during the winter months bolstered the snowpack — a key source of California’s water supply — filled reservoirs and streams, and even left the state drought-free for the first time in nearly a decade.

While commuters hustled on slick freeways through Los Angeles hoping to dodge the worst of the showers Thursday morning, dancer and actress Lauren Lewis pulled on a yellow raincoat and grabbed a matching umbrella for a damp walk around Lake Balboa. She paused to acknowledge the beauty of the spring season despite the gloomy weather.

“It’s so beautiful in the rain,” she said. “The rain brings out colors in the leaves that you don’t normally see.”

The low-pressure system this week also dumped snow in the Sierra Nevada. Some areas could see more than a foot of snow by the time the storm moves out of the state Friday, forecasters said.

While Thursday’s rain ended, don’t expect the Southland to stay dry for long. Another spring storm is on the horizon, set to arrive Saturday night and linger through Sunday morning.

Times staff photographer Al Seib contributed to this report.

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