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Wild weather births tornado in Central Valley, causes power outages in Southern California

Wild, windy weather blew through the state, with a tornado raking a small Central Valley town like it was in Kansas or Oklahoma and gusts causing thousands to lose power in Southern California.

The twister damaged 21 homes Sunday in the Central Valley community of Denair has been categorized as category 1 tornado. That's the weakest level on a scale of 5 – but given this happened in California and not the American Midwest, it was rather eye-catching.

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Strong winds uprooted trees, downed power lines and sent debris swirling around homes in the town south of Modesto. The vortex of clouds and violent winds traveled at least a mile along Zeering Road, leaving destruction in its path. Compared to a category EF-5 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita scale with winds exceeding 200 mph, the Denair twister was EF-1, with winds of 86 to 110 mph.

"It's something that is rare for people in this community," said Sgt. Anthony Bejaran of the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department.

After the fierce winds swept through the town, residents found themselves without power and gas. The roofs of their homes were shredded. Trees had fallen onto homes and at least one home shifted from its foundation. The costs of damages hasn't been tallied, Bejaran said.

With all the destruction and chaos, neighbors didn't wait for the fire department or police to show up to start clean-up efforts. As emergency workers pulled into the neighborhood, they found residents armed with chainsaws working to remove downed trees, Bejaran said.

"Probably the most fortunate part of this is that no one was injured," he said.

The tornado probably formed during strong thunderstorms that brought rain to the surrounding cities of Modesto and Stockton, said David Rowe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

"The Central Valley is probably the most tornado-prone area in the western part of the U.S.," he said.

The strong winds were part of a wild weather system that swept across California, bringing snow to the Sierra Nevada and causing power outages across Los Angeles County.

Thousands of Los Angeles County residents were without power Monday after powerful winds up to 70 mph in some areas downed trees and power lines.

In Southern California, cold wind plagued parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, toppling trees and knocking out power for thousands of residents. At least 7,900 residents in Los Angeles reported widespread power outages, said Carol Tucker, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Power was restored to 15,550 customers as of 2 p.m.

A tornado touched down in Stanislaus County on Nov. 15, officials said.
A tornado touched down in Stanislaus County on Nov. 15, officials said. (Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department)

In the Larchmont neighborhood, 4,484 homes and businesses were without power. About 3,159 customers were experiencing service issues in the Vermont-Slauson neighborhood. Crews were working to restore power to at least 1,000 customers in the Mid-Wilshire area, where a large tree fell on power lines, she said.

More than 3,000 Southern California Edison customers were without power Monday morning due to the weather, according to the agency's online outage map.

More than 2,700 of those customers were in Alhambra, with another 1,500 in Seal Beach. The remaining outages were clustered across the Southland, including areas of the high desert, San Fernando Valley and Long Beach. Hundreds of other outages were being analyzed for a cause as of 11 a.m., the map showed.

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In Los Angeles County, the strongest winds clocked in at 92 mph in Whitaker Peak, 73 mph in Warm Springs Camp, 71 mph at Saugus, 68 mph in the unincorporated community of Del Valle and 63 in Avalon. Winds reached 68 mph on Santa Barbara Island.

A tree toppled onto a car being driven in the 2600 block of South Broadway, trapping the driver, according to Erik Scott, spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department. Firefighters freed the driver, who was taken to a hospital. The extent of the driver's injuries was not known.

Large downed trees were reported in Hancock Park and throughout the Valley.

At the Port of Long Beach, powerful winds caused a barge to break loose from its anchorage and sent it drifting toward an oil pumping platform, said port spokesman Art Wong. Police sent a boat to stop the barge from reaching the platform.

Temperatures were expected to stay in the 60s Monday, but the winds should calm by mid-morning. Breezy conditions will continue through Tuesday but winds will lose strength as the week progresses.

Snow dusted communities above 3,000 feet, parts of the Grapevine along the 5 Freeway and Big Bear.

In the northern Sierra Nevada, more than a foot of snow blanketed the mountains, with some wet flurries falling as low as 3,000 feet.

Blue Canyon near Interstate 80 received at least 8 inches of snow. The new snow is a relief to ski resorts in the area, some of which opened their lifts during the weekend after months of parched conditions.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA and @JosephSerna

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