USA – A winter storm that soaked Southern California, prompting officials to issue evacuation orders for areas around the El Dorado Fire and Apple Fire burn scars in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, dropped light rain in the Coachella Valley and heavy snow in the surrounding mountain areas on Friday.
A mandatory evacuation order for San Bernardino County areas was downgraded to a warning at 8 a.m. Friday, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said on Twitter.
At 3 p.m. the sheriff’s department and Yucaipa Police Department announced that the warning had been lifted. Also on Friday, evacuation orders issued for parts of Riverside County was lifted.
The steady rainfall that started just before 3 a.m. Friday morning in the Coachella Valley had totaled 0.08 inch at Palm Springs International Airport by midday, and Whitewater received 0.67inch, the National Weather Service reported.
There wereno weather-related reports of road closures in the valley, but chains are required on Highway 74 at Pinyon Pines and in Idyllwild, the California Highway Patrol reported on its website. Idyllwild had received 6 inches of snow as of 10 a.m. Friday and Pine Cove had 8 inches.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway received 4 to 6 inches of snow over 24 hours at Mountain Station, said Greg Purdy, vice president of marketing and public affairs.
The ranger’s station at Mt. San Jacinto State Park at the top of the tram had received 7 inches, Purdy said. He reported 2 to 4 feet in total of snow in the state park, depending on snow drifts, as of Friday afternoon. The web cam showed the picnic tables buried in snow.
The tram remains closed due to the pandemic.
“We are hoping for some time next month, but no definite date yet. We know everyone is sad to miss all this wonderful snow,” Purdy said.
In the San Bernardino mountains, Lake Arrowhead received 11 to 13 inchesof snow by 12:47 p.m. and Big Bear Resort reported 10 to 14 inches of snow since Thursday, the National Weather Service reported.
The storm was expected to move out by Friday night, delivering a nice weekend with temperatures moving into the 70s on Sunday for the Coachella Valley, National Weather Service meteorologist Samantha Connolly said.
Saturday will be sunny with temperatures in the mid-60s and overnight lows in the low-40s, Connolly said.
Many asked to evacuate; orders lifted
Officials feared heavy rain could lead to dangerous mudslides and debris flows and mandatory evacuations were issued Thursday for the burn scar of the El Dorado Fire in San Bernardino County ahead of Friday’s storm. Those orderswere lifted at about 3 p.m. Friday.
The Apple Fire, which began July 31 near Cherry Valley, burned 33,424 acres and the El Dorado Fire, which charred 22,597 acres, ignited Sept. 5 near Yucaipa.
Rain was falling steadily at Hemmerling Elementary School in Banning on Friday morning, but as of 9:30 a.m. no evacuees had arrived at the temporary Red Cross evacuation point in Riverside County.
Ken Rieger, a shelter supervisor with the Red Cross, said a family of four came in yesterday. They were offered a hotel voucher but declined. As for what the rest of the day might look like, “it depends on the weather and what’s happening out there,” Rieger said.
Oak Glen in San Bernardino County had received 4 inches of snow by Friday afternoon, with 5 to 9 inches total possible.
At Redlands East Valley High School in San Bernardino County, the cafeteria-turned-evacuation-point was empty at noon as Red Cross employees packed up and prepared to leave.
No evacuees had come by on Friday, supervisor Ricardo Tomboc said.
After evacuation orders were first issued on Thursday, the center received about 25 cases, he said. Each case could be one person or a family with multiple people, Tomboc said. Two more cases trickled in Thursday night during the graveyard shift, he said.
Evacuees were given a free night stay in a hotel in San Bernardino and free meals.
“Normally, if it was a fire or something major, you’d expect anywhere from 5% to even 10% of the population evacuating. But a lot of the people may have gotten hotels themselves without the assistance of the Red Cross,” Tomboc said.
There were no immediate reports of large-scale debris flows in the region, but mud slid off burned slopes in Orange County’s Silverado Canyon and from a fire-scorched hillside onto State Route 39 on the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.
The multiple mudslides near the Silverado Canyon burn areas covered a road out of the canyon, keeping at least two television news crews from being able to leave the area.
The slide along Silverado Canyon Road, near Sycamore Drive and Rancho Way, and close to the Silverado and Bond fire burn scars, was first reported about 11 p.m. Thursday by Fox11.
Fox11 reporter Bill Melugin tweeted about 11:45 p.m., “We are currently trapped, but perfectly fine. Roads are impassible from multiple mudflows. Bulldozers on scene trying to clear it. Residents out in streets concerned about stability of other hills near their homes.”
Mud covered the road about a mile from the Orange County Fire Authority station in the canyon about 11:40 p.m., NBC4 reported. A news van from the station was unable to leave until crews using bulldozers cleared the roadway.
Further north, the drenching storm washed out Highway 1 near Big Sur, burying the Sierra Nevada in snow and causing muddy flows from slopes burned bare by wildfires.
Highway 1 closed after a section of the roadway collapsed when the cliffside below gave way amid torrential rain.
Highway crews were to begin damage assessments Friday and there was no estimate on when the popular driving route would reopen, the California Department of Transportation said.
Central coast rainfall topped 15 inches (38.1 centimeters) when the storm stalled there at midweek, triggering mud flows that damaged about two dozen homes. Firefighters used earth-moving equipment Thursday to rescue a horse and pony from deep mud near Salinas.
Down the coast, a water rescue team helped a woman to safety after she became trapped on a road between two rain-swollen creeks in Santa Barbara County on Thursday.
Officials at Los Angeles International Airport warned travelers of potential delays due to thunderstorms.
In Azusa, a motorist managed to escape injury when a portion of a rain-soaked hillside slid down to Highway 39, pushing his car across the roadway and toward a cliff.
Azusa police closed the roadway to all traffic at Old San Gabriel Canyon Road so crews could remove the muck from the roadway.
And with lightning spotted off the coast, Los Angeles County lifeguards closed beaches from Zuma to Marina del Rey Friday morning. The beach reopened by midday.
The storm also unleashed a huge amount of snow in the Sierra, where the annual snowpack normally provides about a third of the state’s water supply.
The Mammoth Mountain ski resort reported the storm had dropped 8.92 feet (2.72 meters) of snow as of early Friday, with more falling. California Department of Transportation plows worked to clear some mountain highways and others were open with strict chain requirements.
Yosemite National Park officials said the snowstorm would force it to remain closed until at least Feb. 1.
Much-needed moisture in parched California
While the storm stoked fears of mudslides and debris flows in burn areas, the system also is bringing much-needed precipitation to California amid an unusually dry winter.
Atmospheric rivers, like the one that barreled ashore in the north early in the week and rolled into Southern California Thursday night, are long, narrow bands of water vapor that form over an ocean and flow through the sky. They occur globally but are especially significant on the West Coast of the United States, where they create 30% to 50% of annual precipitation and are linked to water supply and problems such as flooding and mudslides, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The atmospheric river is part of a major change in weather for California, which had significant drought conditions for months. The dryness contributed to wildfires that scorched more than 4.2 million acres in 2020, the most in recorded modern history.