US Winter Storm Lashes California with Wind, Snow & Flash Flood

A powerful winter storm that caused heavy rainfall and frigid temperatures in California has shifted its focus to wind and heavy snow. However, the risk of life-threatening flash floods in the Los Angeles area has passed, according to forecasters.

The National Weather Service has predicted blizzard conditions at higher elevations, with wind gusts of up to 100 mph (160 kph) and several feet of snow in isolated areas. Meteorologist Zach Taylor said, “There’s already been reports of 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 centimeters) across some of the higher peaks, and we’re looking at an additional foot, maybe two, of additional snowfall through the rest of the day.”

Some areas in California have seen overnight lows fall below freezing, while downtown San Francisco approached record cold temperatures. However, a drop to 38 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) would have been the coldest since 2009, but it didn’t get colder than 41 Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius), according to the National Weather Service.

The weather service had warned Friday of possible overnight flash floods, landslides, and mudslides in Los Angeles County near creeks, streams, urban areas, highways, and areas that were burned by wildfires. The threat zone included downtown L.A., Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and many suburbs.

Flash flooding did hit nearby Ventura County early Saturday, where up to 7 inches (18 centimeters) of rain fell. But by 6 a.m. Saturday, the weather service said the heavy rain in both counties had ended and that flooding was no longer expected to pose a threat.

Meanwhile, people in Michigan are still struggling to deal with the fallout from storms earlier this week. More than 418,000 homes and businesses in Michigan were still without power Saturday morning, two days after one of the worst ice storms in decades caused widespread power outages by knocking down some 3,000 ice-coated power lines. Promises of power restoration by Sunday, when low temperatures were expected to climb back above zero (minus 18 Celsius), were little consolation.

The Weather Prediction Center of the National Weather Service has forecast heavy snow over the Cascade Mountains and the Sierra Nevada into the weekend. California’s wine country wasn’t spared from the rare brew of wind and snow. Mark Neal told KPIX-TV that he woke up Friday morning to see a foot (30.4 centimeters) of snow — more than he had seen in more than 40 years — and dozens of his oak trees snapped in half. “It’s pretty much a battleground if you look at it. Some of them are over 200 years old,” he said. Luckily, the vines were safely dormant.

An avalanche warning was issued for the Sierra Nevada backcountry around Lake Tahoe, which straddles the California-Nevada border. Nearly 2 feet (61 cm) of new snow had fallen by Friday, and up to another 5 feet (1.5 meters) was expected when another storm moves in with the potential for gale-force winds and high-intensity flurries Sunday, the weather service said.

In Arizona, the heaviest snow was expected late Saturday through midday Sunday, with up to a foot of new snow possible in Flagstaff, forecasters said.

The cold weather blasting the North and West avoided the southern states, leading to wild temperature differences. The high temperature for the U.S. on Friday was 93 degrees Fahrenheit (34 degrees Celsius) at Falcon Lake, Texas, while the low was minus-35 degrees Fahrenheit (1.7 Celsius) near Huntley, Montana.

The wintry blasts led to hundreds of canceled flights at airports around the country and temporarily shut down miles of major highways Friday in California, Oregon, and Nevada.