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Storm deaths and damages in California

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

While a blizzard that started over the weekend continued to clobber the Sierras of northern and eastern California today (Monday), this very storm soaked areas of central and southern California at the same time, including the burn scar area from last November’s Woolsey wildfire near Los Angeles. Small communities and major metropolitan areas had streets covered with high water, mudslides and debris flows, and transportation officials had to close roads. Severe thunderstorm winds knocked trees and power lines, and even a tornado touched down.

Record Rainfall, Flooding and Fatalities

Most of the heavy rain fell on Saturday, with totals of four to six inches in some mountain areas.

Rescue crews plucked motorists from cars caught in rising waters, according to Mike Eliason, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. He urged drivers to avoid flooded intersections and find alternate routes.

Multiple accidents were reported on highways, including a crash on I-5 that killed a volunteer member of a search and rescue team, and injured several others. According to a Los Angeles Times report, the team from Ventura County was on its way to a training exercise when it stopped to help at the scene of a single-vehicle rollover crash near Pyramid Lake. A minivan carrying a family was traveling too fast for the wet conditions, lost control and plowed into members of the team, Los Angeles County Fire Captain Tony Imbrenda said. Nine people were transported to hospitals, including three members of the team. The victim, Jeff Dye, was a volunteer with the Fillmore Mountain Search and Rescue Team, according to sheriff’s department officials.

Daily rainfall records were broken on Saturday, February 2 at the following official National Weather Service (NWS) reporting stations in the Los Angeles forecast area:

• Burbank – Bob Hope Airport (ICAO code: BUR): 2.13″

• Los Angeles International Airport (ICAO code: LAX): 1.45″

• Long Beach Airport (ICAO code: LGB): 1.39″

• Paso Robles Municipal Airport (ICAO code: PRB): 1.15″

The rain was coming down fast and hard at times it caused flash flooding in Hollywood, downtown Los Angeles, Malibu, and Santa Barbara, as well as a few other areas. Sections of I-5, the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH/CA-1) and other state routes were blocked by high water, mudslides and debris flows, and closed off by California Department of Transportation (Caltran) crews so they could clean up the messes. Heavy rain and flooding returned today, so crews went right back to work. But the rain has been fading this evening while downpours have been dousing other areas like parts of San Diego, San Francisco, and Fresno. Updated road California road closures can be found here.

Wind Damage

Thunderstorm winds topping 80 mph in some spots toppled trees and power lines onto homes and vehicles. Two places that got hit hard were Carmel-by-the-Sea, about 200 miles south of San Francisco, Boulder Creek (near San Jose), and Santa Barbara.

The NWS also confirmed that an EF-0 tornado, wind range of 65 to 85 mph on the EF scale, hit near Mariposa, in the foothills of the Sierras. Meteorologists at the Hanford, California office told FreightWaves that a comprehensive report should be completed by Tuesday or Wednesday. Tornado Warnings were issued today for other parts of the state. More periods of heavy rain and strong winds are possible across central and southern California through Tuesday night.

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Nick Austin, Director of Weather Analytics and Senior Meteorologist

In his 17 years of weather forecasting experience, Nick worked on air at WBBJ-TV and WRCB-TV, including time spent doing weather analysis and field reporting. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from Georgia Institute of Technology. Nick is also a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” for eight consecutive years. Nick earned his National Weather Association Broadcasting Seal in 2005.
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