Powerful thunderstorms raged throughout California on Monday, walloping the Sierra Nevada with blizzard conditions and briefly knocking out power at the Los Angeles airport.
Damage in Santa Monica was limited to a handful of isolated power outages, some minor flooding and a few traffic accidents.
According to the Santa Monica Fire Department, the most serious incident occurred on Sunday when winds threatened to blow debris from a construction site into a nearby home.
SMFD Administrative Captain/PIO, Dale Hallock, said firefighters responded to a call at 160 Hart Ave. at about 2:30 p.m. on March 6. Firefighters found that scaffolding had come loose from a four-story apartment building currently under construction.
“This first fire department unit, activated a USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) alarm, and received aid from the fire department’s most specialized Heavy Recue resources; The USAR rescue truck, and the ladder truck. These units were able dismantle portions of the scaffolding, and hoist other parts back into the apartment building under construction,” he said. “The battalion chief on scene reported no injuries, and minimal damage to the neighboring structure.”
Hallock said there was an increase in calls for service Monday morning at about the time a lightning storm moved through the area but those calls did not translate into major incidents and could have been caused by power cuts/surges triggering automatic alarms.
The storm had a more significant impact across the state.
Some San Francisco Bay Area roads were under more than a foot of water during the morning commute. Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties saw about 11 inches of rain over 72 hours.
Commuter traffic also slowed to a crawl on Los Angeles-area freeways as cars were pelted by hail and motorists struggled to see roadways and navigate flooded lanes.
Douglas Barkley said he was driving on State Route 91 when he saw a bolt of lightning that ignited a pair of palm trees along the freeway.
“Embers were flying in the wind along with the rain,” he wrote in an email.
Dozens of arrivals and departures were delayed but only a few flights were canceled after a storm briefly knocked out power at all terminals at Los Angeles International Airport. Backup systems kicked in and full power was restored within an hour, airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles said.
The rain could strike a blow against the ongoing California drought. As much as 20 inches was expected this week in some parts of Northern California amid a deepening snowpack that provides water to the state when it melts in the spring.
The storms arrived as the ocean-warming phenomenon called El Nino persists in the Pacific.
In the Sierra Nevada, a blizzard forced authorities to close Interstate 80 at Donner Summit for several hours overnight. Forecasters warned of whiteout conditions as up to 2 inches of snow fell each hour.
Strong winds knocked down trees and power lines across Southern California. Several vehicles were crushed by falling trees at a Central Coast RV park. No injuries were reported.
Snow fell in the mountains, bringing a welcome sight at ski resorts around the state. Sugar Bowl ski resort near Lake Tahoe saw 33 inches of snow at the summit overnight, said National Weather Service meteorologist Brian O’Hara.
Snow was expected at the 5,000-foot level in the mountains of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Drivers on mountain passes, including the Grapevine section of Interstate 5, were cautioned about possibly icy conditions.
Over the weekend, Chia Xiong, 51, of Marysville died in Yuba County after being trapped in a car that became submerged in floodwater on a highway.
The driver, who was able to get out of the car, was arrested for investigation of driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter, CHP Officer Jodie Beck said.
– Christopher Weber, Associated Press
Matthew Hall contributed to this report.