Blizzards hit Los Angeles in rare winter storm

A winter storm that has made its way over the Pacific has brought several days of flooding, freezing temperatures and snowfall to some parts of Southern California.

Rivers have swelled to dangerous levels and snow has even fallen in low-lying areas around Los Angeles – with some areas receiving over 30 inches of snow, and forecasters saying there is more to come.

The National Weather Service said it was one of the strongest storms to ever hit southwest California, and it continued to have a significant impact even as the volume of wind and rain dropped.

Hills around suburban Santa Clarita in the north of Los Angeles were blanketed in white, as snow also surprised inland suburbs to the east.

The storm tapered off in the region as rare blizzard warnings for the mountains and widespread flood watches ended late in the day.

Forecasters said there would be a one-day respite before the next storm is expected on Monday.

More than 120,000 California utility customers went without electricity following several days of fierce winds, toppled trees and downed wires – while the West Coast’s major north-south highway, Interstate 5, remained closed due to heavy snow and ice in Tejon Pass through the mountains of north Los Angeles.

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As of Saturday morning, multiday precipitation totals included 205cm (81 inches) of snow at the Mountain High resort in the San Gabriel Mountains, northeast of Los Angeles and up to 160cm (64 inches) at Snow Valley in the San Bernardino Mountains.

There was also nearly 38.1cm (15 inches) of rainfall at Los Angeles County’s Cogswell Dam and nearly 26.6cm (10.5 inches) in the Woodland Hills section of the city.

“Quite a remarkable storm the last few days with historic amounts of precip and snow down to elevations that rarely see snow,” an LA-area weather office wrote.

The Los Angeles Fire Department used a helicopter to rescue four homeless people who were stranded in the Los Angeles River’s major flood control basin – a river that is mostly dry throughout the whole year.

A spokesperson said two people were taken to hospital with hypothermia.

Meanwhile, in the Valencia area of north Los Angeles County, the Santa Clara River carried away three motorhomes early on Saturday after carving into an embankment where an RV park is located.

KCAL-TV reported no one was hurt, but one resident described the scene as devastating.

Lightning strikes shut down LA County beaches as scattered bursts of snow, showers and thunderstorms persisted before the storm, fuelled by low pressure rotating off the coast, finally departed.

The Weather Prediction Center of the National Weather Service has forecast heavy snow over the Cascade Mountains and the Sierra Nevada in California through the weekend.

Further east, some residents were still struggling to deal with the impact of storms earlier in the week.

Some 350,000 customers were without power in Michigan as of early Saturday afternoon, according to reports from the two main utilities in the state, DTE and Consumers Energy. Both energy suppliers said they hoped to have the lights back on for most of their customers by Sunday night.

Around half an inch of ice weighed down some power lines, equivalent to the weight of a baby grand piano, according to Consumers Energy spokesman Brian Wheeler.

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