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Grapevine open, but plunging snow levels may cause closure

March 17, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A late-winter storm brought rain, wind and snow to Southern California this weekend, causing flooding and accidents on the road.

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The storm system steadily pushed down from the central coast toward and across the Southland, with Ventura County feeling the brunt of the wet weather Saturday.

The California Highway Patrol said there were about 400 traffic accidents in a five-hour period as the powerful storm pounded Southern California.

As snow levels dropped to 2,500 feet, the CHP said it was keeping a watchful eye on the Grapevine. It was not expected to close overnight, but it was a possibility.

The CHP also said there was heavy snow that was sticking to the ground throughout Lebec, just south of the Grapevine. There was moderate snow in Acton, but roads remained open.

The rain and wind also caused power outages in the region. As of 10 p.m., 9,920 Southern California Edison customers were without power, mostly in the Victorville, Ridgecrest, Monrovia, Montebello, Compton, Long Beach and Whittier areas. The utility said it was working to restore power to those affected.

Some customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power were also without power. That number was below 1,000.

Moderate rainfall continued from the morning hours into the afternoon for Ventura and Los Angeles counties. The system pushed down to the south in the late afternoon into the evening for the Inland Empire and San Bernardino mountain areas.

There was also a thunderstorm threat with the system, with 1-2 inches of rain for valleys and coastal areas and 2-4 inches for the foothills and mountains.

The foothills were among the many spots that saw rain early Saturday morning. In preparation for the wet weather, residents in fire-ravaged La Canada Flintridge stacked up sandbags on Friday to protect their homes from potential flooding.

Re-growth has started to fill in the hillsides blackened by the Station Fire in 2009, but it will still be years before the brush is back to normal. The scorched hillsides gave way to heavy rains in 2010, triggering mudslides that destroyed many homes and cars in the area. Officials believe the hillsides were compromised again because of the powerful windstorm in late 2011, when many trees and shrubs were knocked down, taking away yet another barrier to catch heavy rain flow.

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A lot of work has been done to clear the catch basins after the devastating debris flow two years ago.

"Two days last February where we had 8 or 9 inches of rain a day, and we saw nothing but clear water coming down, so they have improved the basin since then. I don't have any concerns," said La Canada Flintridge resident Colin Mahoney.

Sandbags are available at two fire stations in Pasadena:

Fire Station 37
3430 East Foothill Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91107

Fire Station 38
1150 Linda Vista Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91103

Overall, St. Patrick's Day was wet, cold and gray with temperatures in the high 50s for Los Angeles and Orange counties, Valleys and the Inland Empire and low 40s for the high country.

The mountains saw some blowing snow with strong westerly winds gusting up to 65 mph. The snow level was expected to fall to 2,000-3,000 feet by Saturday night with up to 2 feet of snow in the highest peaks near the resorts.

Snow was good news for local ski resorts, but for drivers trying to get around on mountain roads, it was a different story. Chains were required for those headed to Mountain High Ski Resort.

The snow coupled with fog meant tough driving conditions along the Grapevine. Warnings were posted to warn of potential dangers.

In Northern California, the storm pounded the Sierras with several feet of fresh powder and with the system headed south, the California Highway Patrol is on alert, ready to shut down the Grapevine if travel turns treacherous.

Mountain road closures:

- Angeles Forest Highway from Aliso Canyon Road to Upper Big Tujunga Canyon
- Upper Big Tujunga Canyon from Angeles Forest Highway to Angeles Crest Highway

Officials say don't expect these roads to reopen until the storm has passed.

See photos of storm throughout Southern California.

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