Widespread flooding, mudslides, evacuations as biggest storm in years batters California
Flooding along the boardwalk in Seal Beach after rainfall and high surf.
The third in a series of powerful winter storms unleashed a deluge in Southern California on Sunday, flooding numerous roads and freeways, setting new rainfall records and stranding some in dangerously rising waters.
Forecasters had predicted this storm would be the strongest and several years, and it didn’t disappoint. While earlier storms produced periods of heavy showers, this one delivered several hours of sustained pounding rain, with damaging results.
Coastal areas of Los Angeles County were among the hardest hit, with Long Beach Airport setting a new all-time rainfall record, 3.87 inches. The intense rain was too much for local roads. Sunday afternoon, both the 110 Freeway in Carson and the 710 Freeway in Long Beach were shutdown due to extreme flooding that left cars stranded like islands in a lake.
In Long Beach and surrounding communities, dozens of intersections were flooded and some residents reported their parked cars were damaged as the rainwater kept rising. Across the region, several people were rescued from their cars and thousands lost power.
A surfer barely clears a giant wave in Manhattan Beach.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
People enjoy the snow in Acton.(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)
Elizabeth Wolterbeek plays among rocks in the 200 block of Mel Canyon Road in Duarte on Friday after a mudslide.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
A girl loses control of her umbrella after being rescued by a Huntington Beach police officer and a tow truck operator. Her family became trapped in their disabled car in the middle of flooded Heil Ave. amid a heavy downpour in Huntington Beach.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Commuters navigate a rain-soaked 10 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday morning, as the first of three storms rolls through Southern California. More storms are expected over the weekend.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Palmdale residents Cesar Navarro, left, and his son Cesar Navarro Jr. sled down a snowy hill in Acton.(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)
A fast moving discharge of water spews from the San Gabriel Dam, as a storm front moves through the area.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
A bicyclist comes to the end of a trail that’s covered in wet sand at Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Snow covers boat slips and a lone picnic at Lake Arrowhead on Monday as the latest strom moves through.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Debris, including drinking cups, rubber balls and bottles, washes ashore along the Alamitos Peninsula near East Ocean Boulevard and 56th Place in Long Beach on Monday.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Dale Ball of La Cañada Flintridge has rain gear for herself and her dogs while walking toward the entrance to Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena on Jan. 23.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
A car drives through a snowy scene on Shannon Valley Road in Acton.(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)
A city worker uses a snowblower to clear the walkways during a snowstorm at Lake Arrowhead Village.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
With the road closed to traffic, Paul Doolin rides a skateboard past a fallen boulder that rests on Topanga Canyon Blvd.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A city worker shovels the walkways during a snowstorm at Lake Arrowhead Village in the San Bernardino mountains.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Jose Villa of Lake Arrowhead clears fresh snow off his windshield during a blizzard in Rimforest, Calif.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Snow begins to fall and stick to the road in Crestline, Calif.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Enrique Nicanor carries plywood on an improvised walkway he made over a flowing creek that damaged the driveway to the house where he works on Iron Canyon Road.(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)
Clearing storm clouds are reflected in the wet sand at low tide in Newport Beach on Monday.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
County of Los Angeles pubic works equipment clears the flooded creek on Iron Canyon Road.(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)
Niklas Hofverberg and his daughter Bianca Hofverberg, 3 1/2 years old, watch the sun set as storms clouds dissipate in Venice on Monday.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles TImes)
John Fisher of Altadena looks out toward Devils Gate Reservoir in Pasadena on Jan. 23.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Westminster resident Shirley Hansen carries her dog Scruffy while she walks through floodwater caused by recent rain on the boardwalk in Seal Beach.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
A glimpse of blue sky is seen during a break in the rain at Devil’s Gate Reservoir in Pasadena on Jan. 23.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Gina Picciolo takes a picture of a boulder that fell onto Topanga Canyon Blvd. Picciolo is a longtime resident in the area.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Ward Preston and Gina Picciolo walk past a mudslide along Topanga Canyon Blvd.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A Huntington Beach police officer watches a tow truck operator hook up chains to rescue a family from the middle of flooded Heil Avenue after their car stalled in the deep water amid a heavy downpour in Huntington Beach on Jan. 22.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
A rainbow appears over Seal Beach, Calif. on Monday. The tail end of a punishing winter storm system lashed California with thunderstorms and severe winds Monday after breaking rainfall records, washing out roads and whipping up enormous waves.(Amy Taxin / Associated Press)
Jerry Katz stands next to a mudflow at the corner of Mel Canyon and Brookridge roads in Duarte.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A Huntington Beach police officer watches a bus drive through flooded Heil Avenue amid a heavy downpour in Huntington Beach.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
A man looks for a safe way to cross floodwaters flowing from hillsides in a nearby recent burn area on North Iron Canyon Road in Santa Clarita.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
A Huntington Beach police officer diverts a pickup driver while a tow truck operator hooks up chains to rescue a family from the middle of flooded Heil Ave.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Mud and rocks have filled the driveway of a Duarte home along Mel Canyon Road, where residents have been evacuated due to mudslides.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Rudy Fuentes stands on the porch of his home on Mel Canyon Road in Duarte, looking out at where mud has taken over his driveway.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Police stop traffic on Mountain Crest Road where residents have been evacuated due to incoming storms in the Fish fire impact area in Duarte.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Marcus Jenkins selling umbrellas as he shelters under one of his own on Hollywood Blvd in Hollywood as the second of three winter storms begin to drench the Southland Friday.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Motorists navigate the flooded lanes of northbound Fairview Street in Santa Ana.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Ella Masa, all wrapped in plastic, pushes her two service dogs as she joins an East LA/Boyle Heights group with banners and posters marching from Mariachi Plaza on Friday, protesting President Trump’s inauguration.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Umbrellas are necessary on Hollywood Boulevard as the second of three winter storms begins to batter Southern California on Friday morning.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
A pedestrian scurries across the street under her umbrella in downtown Los Angeles on Friday morning.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Paulina Tu takes cover under her umbrella as she waits for a ride in downtown Los Angeles on Friday morning.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Brett Albright, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s office in San Diego, said the storm dumped as much as four inches of rain in some places.
“Today was very intense,” said Albright. “It’s not a normal event. It was definitely a culmination of the perfect circumstances: We had a very intense atmospheric river with a lot of moisture and an area of lift in the atmosphere right over coastal Los Angeles and Orange counties. It forced all of that moisture out.”
“It’s not often we see higher rainfall totals on the coast than in the mountains,” he said.
Southern California has been mired by a 5-year-drought. But this storm is part of a larger shift toward wetter conditions that began last fall. Since October 1, downtown L.A. has received more than 13 inches of rain -- 216% of normal rainfall for this period, which the National Weather Service said was 6.26 inches.
Officials said much of the Southland remains in drought, although recent storms are helping.
On Sunday, the brunt of the storm hit in the afternoon.
Rockslides closed roads in Malibu and other coastal mountain areas. Up the coast in Isla Vista, a cliff and a patio collapsed into the ocean. Rescuers had to evacuate 15 to 20 residents of ocean-front apartment units, according to Gina DePinto, a spokesperson for the County of Santa Barbara.
At least one fatality was believed to be linked to the storm. A motorist in Pomona was driving about 3:15 p.m. amid heavy rains, lost control of the vehicle and smashed into a telephone pole, according to the Pomona Police Department. The driver suffered major injuries and was pronounced dead by Los Angeles County paramedics. The person’s name was not released pending notification of family members.
A homeless encampment off of the Pacific Coast Highway in the Harbor City neighborhood was submerged in several feet of water. Los Angeles fire rescue teams helped three people walk out of the flooded area and brought two others out by boat, officials said.
One of those rescued, a 39-year-old man, was transported to a local hospital. Swift-water rescue teams were still searching the area, a roughly 300-square-foot patch of land with dense vegetation off the highway, for other victims late Sunday afternoon.
Some of the biggest concerns about the storm came from the communities hit by wildfires last year. Heavy rains can cause mudslides in burn areas, and some officials urged residents to evacuate.
Evacuation orders were issued for burn areas in Glendora, Duarte, Silverado Canyon in Orange County and parts of Santa Barbara County.
As of Sunday night, most of the hillsides had held up, to the relief of anxious homeowners.
In the Duarte burn area, many residents chose to stay in their homes. Rudy Fuentes, an elementary school teacher, said he decided to stay behind to protect his home in case things really got out of hand.
“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” said Fuentes, whose driveway was covered in about two inches of mud. “We just decided to stick it out.”
Jerry Katz, a 25-year resident of the neighborhood, wasn’t worried at all about the situation. He didn’t put down any sandbags or dig any trenches. He blamed the city’s orders to leave on nervous lawyers.
“The real problem is I can’t take my son to Cheesecake Factory tonight,” Katz said.
Orange County officials remained on guard, particularly in Silverado Canyon, which is still recovering from a nearly 1,000-acre fire in 2014. Extra emergency crews have been brought in to help, including a bulldozer operator and two additional swift-water rescue teams.
“The ground still remains pretty saturated and … it can be problematic,” said Capt. Alan Wilkes, of the Orange County Fire Authority.
The epic rains caused something very unusual at Disneyland Sunday -- a quiet day with small crowds. As heavy rains poured and a flash flood warning was issued, the sparse number of guests hid under the monorail.
Some were clearly unprepared for the rain — wearing jeans, sneakers and hoodies, with some even without umbrellas. “Star Wars” lightsaber umbrellas were selling briskly, despite a hefty price tag of $65.
But the visitors who braved the weather enjoyed short lines — less than half an hour for Hyperspace Mountain, where lines typically can last for 2 hours.
Thunderstorm conditions were expected to ease slightly late Sunday into Monday. But the rainfall is expected to continue until Tuesday.
In all, the storm system is expected to generate 4 to 6 inches of rainfall over the next three days, with the most rainfall in the foothill and mountain areas. Clearer skies and temperatures in the mid to high 60s are expected to return beginning Friday.
The storm also caused problems in Northern California, which has seen a series of major storms over the last few months that lifted much of the region out of drought.
Mudslides and snow closed major roads including Interstate 80. U.S. 395 and Highway 17, the main freeway linking Silicon Valley with Santa Cruz.
Monster surf on Saturday set a new wave height record for the Monterey Bay: 34.12 feet, according to the NWS. The previous record was 32.8 feet, set in 2008. Those conditions smashed the remains of the famed concrete ship, the S.S. Palo Alto, in the Monterey Bay town Aptos.
Times Staff Writers Rong-Gong Lin II and Joseph Serna contributed to this report.
8:55 p.m.: This article was updated with additional background on the storm system and minor editing.
6:45 p.m.: This post was updated with details on surf conditions in the Bay Area.
6:15 p.m.: This post was updated with preliminary rainfall totals.
5:10 p.m.: This post was updated with more details about a swift-water rescue in Harbor City.
4:30 p.m.: This post was updated with details on the rainstorm at Disneyland and elsewhere.
3:30 p.m.: This post was updated with more details about flooding.
2:55 p.m.: This post was updated with details on flooding and the issuing of a flash flood warning.
1:40 p.m.: This post was updated with more detailed information about evacuations.
1:10 p.m. This post was updated with new information regarding evacuations.
12:45 p.m.: This post was updated with new information from the National Weather Service.
11:20 a.m.: This post was updated with new information about flooding preparations in Orange County.
10:35 a.m.: This post was updated with new information regarding the Hermosa Beach Pier.
9:30 a.m.: This post was updated with new information about evacuations in Duarte.
9:10 a.m.: This post was updated with conditions in Northern California, including Highway 17.
8:20 a.m., Jan. 22: This post was updated with a forecast, and developments in Northern California.
11:30 p.m.: Updated with news of more evacuations.
8:55 p.m.: This story was updated with new information about evacuations in Santa Clarita.
5:50 p.m.: This story was updated with new information from the National Weather Service.
3:40 p.m.: This story was updated with snow and surf forecasts.
This story was originally published at 11:55 a.m. Jan. 21
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