Rogue storm delivers 1 inch of rain

A spring storm dropped 1 inch of rain on the fire-scarred foothills Monday morning, causing more damage on the freeways than in the hillsides before giving way to a sunny afternoon.

The storm, late for this time of year, was stronger than expected and dumped more rain than what is typical for the entire month of April, said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Local mountains also received between 6 and 12 inches of snow, he said.

“This was definitely a surprise,” Patzert said. “Normally this is the end of it. [The storm] is sweet because we definitely need the rain.”

The storm snarled morning traffic on local freeways, causing several major accidents, including a rollover at Holly Drive near the Glendale (2) Freeway and a three-vehicle collision on the eastbound Foothill (210) Freeway, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Even a Glendale police squad car contributed to the traffic woes at about 10 a.m. when it became involved in a minor accident on the transition for the Ventura (134) and 2 freeways.

But the damage caused by the rain was confined to the roadways, with no reports of debris flows in the Station fire burn areas, said Bob Spencer, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

Crews monitored the hillsides and debris basins throughout the morning, he said.

“Everything is looking good,” Spencer said. “We have had no report of an incident whatsoever.”

Public works crews continue to excavate the largest of the 28 debris basins, which serve as a buffer between the charred San Gabriel Mountains and the residential communities below.

In the wake of significant debris flows on Feb. 6, priority was given to the smallest and most precariously positioned basins, Spencer said. Crews have since moved onto the larger basins, some of which can hold more than 100,000 cubic yards of material. Capacity now ranges between 70% and 90%, he said.

Once the work on the basins is complete, the county will being clearing storm channels, drains and dams, work that will last throughout the summer, Spencer said.

In the fall, climatologists predicted that 2010 could be an El Niño year, a weather phenomenon characterized by a long and wet winter season, but that has failed to materialize, Patzert said.

The most recent storm bumped the downtown annual rainfall to 15.3, he said, slightly higher than the yearly average of 15.1 inches. The rainfall so far would not be enough to offset the state’s ongoing water crisis, Patzert said.

“I think the El Niño was not a stud, it was a dud,” Patzert said. “Even though we got normal rain fall, most of the big reservoirs are still pretty low. The great drought buster that we all looked forward to turned out to be normal. Which is good, but kind of disappointing for those of us who are worried about the water supply.”

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