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SoCal Braces for Worst of Winter Storm, Closes Major Freeways

Following rare blizzard warnings in Southern California counties, plus snowfall at unusually low levels, Interstate 5 has been closed in both directions over the Grapevine.

Snowing in Southern California
Yucaipa, CA - February 23: People snowboard and sled down a hill as they revel in the rare sight of falling snow in Southern California at Yucaipa Community Park in Yucaipa Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023. The National Weather Service issued its first-ever blizzard warning for the San Bernardino County mountains, following a similar warning for Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Southern California has only gotten a taste of the powerful winter storm system that forecasters say will bring an extended period of cold temperatures, high winds and snow, prompting the region's first blizzard warning on record. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Allen J. Schaben/TNS
(TNS) — A rare winter storm continued to pound California with snow and rain early Friday, shutting down freeways, including Interstate 5 through the Grapevine, as blizzard warnings took effect in the region's mountains.

Scattered showers and snow at unusually low elevations started snarling commutes and creating dangerous mountain driving conditions Thursday as the storm system, which is unusual not just in its ferocity but also in its origin from southwest Canada, is forecast to increase in intensity through Saturday.

On Friday morning, the 5 was closed in both directions through the Tejon Pass because of heavy snowfall, the California Highway Patrol and Caltrans said, advising motorists to use U.S. 101. There was no estimate for when it might reopen. The weather conditions also led to a temporary closure along Highway 138 by Palmdale between Highway 14 and the 5, where snow was falling at low elevations.

In the Mojave Desert foothill communities, the National Weather Service said it was receiving reports of drivers stuck in the snow at Lake Elizabeth and Lake Hughes.

The weather service has issued rare blizzard warnings for the mountains of L.A., Ventura and San Bernardino counties. Those took effect early Friday and will last through 4 p.m. Saturday, warning of heavy snow, high winds and limited visibility. It's only the second such warning on record for the mountains of L.A. and Ventura counties, and the first for San Bernardino County's peaks.

An evacuation warning was issued in portions of Ventura County until 10 a.m. Saturday, with officials warning of the potential for flooding and debris flows due to heavy rain and snow.

Showers and isolated thunderstorms over the ocean Friday morning could lead to waterspouts and move onshore, with the potential for small tornadoes in western Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, according to a weather service alert.

Overnight, more than an inch of rain showered the Santa Monica Mountains, and the Los Angeles metro area received less than a quarter of an inch, the weather service said.

The temperature at Los Angeles International Airport plummeted to 41 degrees Thursday morning, tying a previous record low set in 2019, according to the weather service. The mercury dropped 10 degrees in less than an hour as a heavy rain squall moved into the area.

Moderate to brief heavy rains, including the potential for thunderstorms, are forecast for Friday, with snow falling at elevations above 2,500 feet. The storm system is expected to grow more powerful as it picks up more moisture, the National Weather Service said, and snow levels are predicted to rise above 4,000 feet throughout the day.

"It is transitioning to warmer air, and that is lifting the snow levels," said Eric Boldt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Oxnard.

Total snowfall of up to 12 inches is possible at elevations above 2,500 feet, with 3 to 5 feet of snow falling above 4,500 feet and isolated amounts up to 7 or 8 feet at the higher elevations. Gusty southerly winds are expected through Friday along the cold front, with mountains and foothills reaching 60 to 75 mph, and coasts and valleys reaching 30 to 50 mph.

The storm will deliver total rainfall amounts of up to 2 to 5 inches along the coast and in valleys, and up to 6 inches in the foothills and mountains below the snow levels. A flood watch has been issued from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles counties through Saturday. Los Angeles will see the brunt of the storm through the evening Friday, Boldt said.

A bout of low pressure moving into the area through Saturday is expected to drop snow levels back down to 2,500 feet.

The storm system originated in Canada and moved through Oregon, delivering more than 10 inches of snow in Portland and setting the city's record for the second snowiest day in history. As it moved over the ocean, the storm brought snow to coastal cities in Northern California, including Eureka and Crescent City, and to the Sierra Nevada.

California's epic snowfall event also comes as a separate formidable winter storm tore through the Midwest, leaving thousands of people without power and leading to a cascade of canceled flights and road closures.

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