‘Strangest winter we’ve had yet’: Southern California sees rare blizzard conditions, heavy rain

LA QUINTA, Calif. — From the inland deserts to the hills of Los Angeles County and north to the Sierra Nevada mountains, California on Friday was experiencing bizarre winter weather from a massive storm that’s pushing through the West Coast.

Those in Southern California could see snow creeping down the hills to the valley floor Friday morning during what residents described as the weirdest weather in memory.

“This is probably the strangest winter we’ve had yet,” said Mindy Kelley, who is from Oregon but has been wintering in Palm Springs for 25 years. “The wind gusts we’ve experienced were probably the strongest seen. The chill and the winds together aren’t like anything we’ve felt here that I can remember.”.

Low temperatures were set to reach 40 degrees over the weekend in the area. Meanwhile, 3 million Californians awoke Friday morning to a winter storm warning stemming from the storm that first rolled into the Golden State the day before, leaving more than 100,000 customers without electricity.

“The craziest part of this is that you could see anything from this storm,” Fox Weather meteorologist Amy Freeze told USA TODAY. “We’ve talked about blizzard warnings, we’ve talked about flash flooding, but we can also get serious thunderstorms this morning.”.

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As much as 5 feet of snow may fall in some mountains near Los Angeles, creating whiteout conditions as winds gust to 75 mph. The conditions raise the risk of avalanches, according to forecasters.

The weather service in San Diego issued its first-ever blizzard warning for mountain areas including Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead and Wrightwood through Saturday.

Heavy snow wasn’t the only concern in California. Forecasters say they’re worried about torrential rain leading to flash flooding in downtown LA, where parts of the city are expecting up to 8 inches of rain, according to AccuWeather.

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“In urban areas where we’ve got a lot of concrete, the water runs very, very quickly. And if you’ve got too much of it and it can’t drain, all of a sudden you’ve got ponding on roadways and intersections,” she said.

Central and northern California were at risk for damaging thunderstorms, hurricane force winds and waterspouts — which are tornadoes over water — that can come onshore as landspouts, Freeze said.

Here’s what you need to know about Friday’s weather:.

Unusual cold poses challenges for homeless in Palm Springs

Unhoused people in Palm Springs are bracing for an atypically cold weekend of wind and rain in the Coachella Valley.

“It was so cold and windy last night, it felt like what trying to sleep through a tsunami would feel like,” said 62-year-old Cheryl Shannon, who lives in her car in Palm Springs. The car’s windows are broken, allowing cold air in at night.

Last year’s annual homeless count identified 222 unsheltered homeless people in Palm Springs, the second-highest number in the county after the city of Riverside, with only 15 overnight shelter beds available.

Julian Garza, 54, said he planned on staying at the shelter tonight due to the cold, but hasn’t stayed there consistently since it opened because, “There’s a limited capacity here, and I don’t want to take a space that could go to someone who is elderly.”.

But after waking up one morning this week to find his two sleeping bags “crystalized and stiff” with ice, he decided to try to secure a bed space tonight.

Michael Lee May, 60, has slept at the shelter most nights since it opened in early January, arriving promptly by 4:15 p.M. To line up for a bed. He said most nights there are more than 20 people in line. He’s not sure where he or others might go once the winter shelter closes at the end of the month.

“It’s really cold right now, and there’s really not a good place to go,” he said.

He’s heard of some people sleeping across the street inside the airport, but is wary to try after hearing that the police will start giving citations.

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Mudslides close Grapevine highway near Santa Clarita; Parts of I-80 closed

Parts of Interstate 5 near Santa Clarita, referred to as the Grapevine, were closed Friday afternoon due to a mudslide and snow, the state department of transportation said. The highway, which runs northwest of LA, is a major route connecting the northern and southern parts of the state.

Parts of the Grapevine were also closed Thursday night due to heavy snow, the department said on Facebook.

Northeast of LA, parts of State Route 2 along Angeles Crest Highway were closed Friday morning, the department said on Twitter.

In northern California, lack of visibility led to roads closures along Interstate 80, a major east-west corridor connecting San Francisco, Sacramento and Reno, Nevada.

Truckers attempting to travel along parts of I-80 that were open Friday were being checked to make sure their tires were outfitted with the proper chains, according to the state transportation department.

Ventura County prepares for flooding

Evacuation warnings were issued through Saturday morning in Ventura County for areas considered unstable after being hit hard by storms that killed more than a dozen people last month.

Mountain areas in Ventura County had received up to 3 inches of rain by Friday morning, and crews were out monitoring flooding hotspots on the roads.

“We’re just watching hour by hour,” Dave Fleisch, the county’s assistant public works director, told the Ventura Country Star, part of the USA TODAY Network.

Residents were lining roads with sandbags Friday morning, as the county expects the heaviest rain later Friday.

Some of the heaviest rain had stalled over Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties, said Ryan Kittell, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, California. The band over Santa Barbara is expected to move in Ventura County later Friday afternoon or evening, he said.

When that happens, the county will experience the brunt of the “very cold” storm. By Friday evening, periods of intense rain could reach half an inch to an inch an hour.

“We do expect quite a bit of flooding over the roads developing, if not earlier, certainly by tonight,” Kittell said.

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5 feet of snow expected in Big Bear

The winter storm could dump as much as 5 feet of snow in Big Bear, about two hours northeast of Los Angeles, said Bob Larson, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather.

Sustained winds are expected to reach 25 to 35 mph, with gusts between 50 and 60 mph, making travel “very difficult to impossible,” the weather service said.

“This storm should not be taken lightly!” The city of Big Bear Lake said in a tweet. “Stay home. Stay warm. Stay safe.”.

Snow reaches Hollywood sign in LA

There was a faint trace of accumulating ice and snow on the hills surrounding the famed Hollywood sign in LA Friday, according to Freeze, the Fox Weather meteorologist.

“It’s almost, you think, special effects, right?” Freeze said. “We’re in the middle of a movie, somebody’s making snow on the Hollywood sign. But this was real life.”.

Nearby in the San Gabriel mountains, Mt. Wilson — which is at a lower elevation than the Hollywood sign — is expecting over an inch of snow to accumulate by Friday night.

In higher elevations of the county and Ventura County to the north, winds could gust up to 80 mph, with 2 to 5 feet of snow above 4,000 feet and as much as 8 feet of snow in areas including Mount Baldy, Los Angeles County’s tallest peak and a popular destination for hikers, skiers and mountaineers.

The Mount Baldy resort closed its slopes, saying on Twitter that it’s going “to go bananas Friday night.”.

“Stay tuned, it’s probably going to get weird,” the resort said.

The region is also expecting a significant amount of rain at lower elevations, with flood watches in effect from Friday morning through Saturday afternoon.

The greater Los Angeles area could see 2 to 4 inches of rain, Larson said, while a flood watch issued by the National Weather Service warned of rainfall rates up to an inch an hour, especially in the foothills and lower mountain locations.

California winter storm map

National weather radar

Contributing: Cheri Carlson, Ventura County Star; Associated Press.

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