A powerful winter storm carving a path through Southern California was expected to weaken Saturday, leaving heaps of sleet, snow and record-setting rain in its wake.
Reports of power outages, grounded flights and road closures rang out through the Southland as the plume of frigid moisture carved a southeastern path. Rescue crews came to the aid of several people, including a 61-year-old man hoisted to safety from a dirt island in the Tujunga wash Saturday morning, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.
Four homeless people, along with four dogs and a cat, were also rescued from a remote area of land within the heavily flooded Sepulveda Basin late Friday night, LAFD said. Two of the people were suffering from hypothermia and transported to a hospital.
The storm, which already transformed Northern California into a winter wonderland, set multiple precipitation records in and around Los Angeles on Friday, including 4.61 inches of rain near Hollywood Burbank Airport — its fifth wettest day ever, according to Rich Thompson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.
Daily rainfall records were also set at Los Angeles International Airport, which received 2.04 inches, and in Lancaster with 0.78 inch, Camarillo with 1.43 inches, Oxnard with 2.04 inches and Santa Maria with 2.61 inches, Thompson said, calling it “very impressive stuff.”
The unusual system also dropped heavy snow on mountain areas, especially elevations above 4,500 feet. Mountain High resort in Wrightwood received 65 inches of fresh powder in 24 hours, Thompson said, with the potential for an additional foot Saturday.
However, the brunt of the storm has passed the Los Angeles area, Thompson said.
“Right now, the heaviest rains have moved east of L.A. County. You’re still going to see steady light-to-moderate rain in the morning, but then by this afternoon, it’ll turn more showery,” he said.
Areas such as San Bernardino and San Diego were still “in the thick of it” Saturday morning, but were also expecting a weakening trend later in the day, said Brian Adams, a meteorologist with the weather service in San Diego.
“The system as a whole is kind of moving in an east, southeast trajectory,” he said.
The weakening system spurred a number of dramatic rescues and dangerous situations over the course of its days-long wrath. In Ojai, a rescue helicopter roared over Ladera Ridge Road, north of the Thatcher School, at about 10:30 p.m. Friday, when a woman was trapped in a dip in the road amid rapidly rushing water.
Video shared by the Ventura County Fire Department shows a rescue swimmer dropping down from the helicopter via a long cable, landing on the roof of the car, and guiding the woman out from the driver’s side. She held on tight as the helicopter swung both of them over to dry land, where other firefighters helped receive them.
The woman was evaluated and did not need to be transported to a hospital, said Ventura County firefighter Andy VanSciver.
A call for help went out again 30 minutes later, at about 11 p.m., this time at the mouth of the Ventura River, just past Main Street near downtown Ventura. Two men were stuck on an island that had formed in the middle of the river mouth, as rushing water rose on all sides.
A team of firefighters were able to rescue them with a very, very long ladder, said Jeremy Henderson, battalion chief for the city of Ventura’s fire department. He urged the public on Saturday to remain alert for rising water.
“Don’t go through any moving water, it’s extremely dangerous,” he said. “Just 12 inches can take your vehicle off the road.”
Indeed, a rare blizzard warning remains in effect for the mountains of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties until 4 p.m. Saturday, where heavy snow, gusting winds and near-zero visibility are possible.
A flood watch is also in effect in large swaths of Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Ventura counties through Saturday afternoon, where flooding caused by excessive rainfall continues to be possible.
The storm has snarled traffic, particularly in mountain passes. Interstate 5 remains closed in the Grapevine area from Tejon Pass to Parker Road due to wintry conditions, the California Department of Transportation said. In the city, Interstate 5 was also closed around Los Feliz Boulevard and around Laurel Canyon Boulevard because of flooding.
Other closures in the area include portions of State routes 14 and 138, as well as State Routes 2 and 39 in the Angeles National Forest, Caltrans said.
Thousands of residents Saturday also awakened to power outages affecting North Hollywood, Crenshaw, Baldwin Hills, Jefferson Park and more, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said. The agency said residents can expect crews to respond “between 12-24 hours” from the time the outages are reported, though restoration could take longer depending on local conditions.
“Our crews are working as quickly and safely as possible in cold and wet conditions to restore power to affected customers,” the agency said.
Southern California Edison’s outage map also showed more than 18,000 customers without power in Southern California, including about 11,400 in L.A. County.
“This storm is widespread and impacting many of SCE’s customers and communities, from Catalina Island to Lake Arrowhead and from the Grapevine to Mammoth,” spokesman Reggie Kumar said.
SCE staged equipment and crews in areas expected to be most impacted by the storm, he said. About 1,000 crew members were in the field working on outages Saturday morning.
Though the system is weakening, officials warned residents to remain vigilant as soggy, snowy and potentially dangerous conditions could persist.
In Valencia, two motor homes in an RV park were swept into the Santa Clara River shortly after midnight Saturday when an embankment collapsed, according to Sgt. Keith Greene of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriffs’ Station.
“It was raining so hard, you couldn’t hear a lot,” Jennifer Calderon, who lives at the park, told CBS Los Angeles. Her voice cracked with emotion as she described waking to the haunting image of her neighbors scrambling to pull other neighbors out of the water.
Large chunks of land were still seen crumbling into the swollen river Saturday morning, and the area was without power because an electric cable along the embankment had also washed away.
No one was injured, and the area along the riverbank has been evacuated, Greene said. Water levels remain too high to go and recover the two trailer homes.