Storm brings snow to low levels in Southern California

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Snow fell at low levels in Southern California on Thursday with the arrival of a very cold storm that added even more precipitation in a wet winter that has almost eliminated drought conditions statewide.

Snow fell in the Santa Monica Mountains above the Malibu coast, the Los Angeles County Fire Department air operations section showed in a video posted on Twitter.

In the nearby celebrity haven of Calabasas, actor Jerry O'Connell recorded video of himself as snow fell on his car and quickly melted. "It is snowing in Calabasas — crazy," he said.

The National Weather Service had said the snow level could lower to 1,000 feet (305 meters) as the day wore on.

"Correct, that is snow!" the weather service said in response to a video posted from a school in suburban Thousand Oaks where white stuff was lightly falling.

Earlier, the storm coated large areas of desert northeast of Los Angeles, temporarily halting traffic on various state routes.

"It's beautiful," said Kate Porter, a resident of the community of Joshua Tree .

A foot of snow (30 centimeters) was reported in that area at Pioneertown, the National Weather Service said. Similar amounts were reported in the upper elevations of the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains.

Rare "thundersnow" was observed at Big Bear in the San Bernardino range, where road closures were being reported.

Snow closed heavily traveled Interstate 5 in Tejon Pass north of Los Angeles until Caltrans crews could clear the roadway, allowing traffic to resume under Highway Patrol escorts. To the east, Interstate 15 over Cajon Pass remained open but with some slowing because of conditions.

The quaint mountain town of Julian, an hour's drive east of San Diego, appeared coated in snow in webcam video on the Chamber of Commerce website .

The cold storm originated in western Canada and came into California over land rather than along the coast. The storm track was caused by a ridge of high pressure over the central Pacific that blocked storms from the tropics but allowed cold air from the north to dive southward, the National Weather Service said.

Elsewhere, showers fell in the Central Valley and on the Central Coast while northern parts of the state were drying out.

This winter's storms have almost washed drought conditions out of California.

The U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday that more than 67 percent of the state is totally free of any level of dryness. That's the highest percentage since late 2017.

Just under 30 percent of California is now classified as abnormally dry, and less than 4 percent remains in either moderate or severe drought. The remaining drought conditions are confined to the far northern area along the California-Oregon border.

Three months ago, more than three-quarters of the state was in moderate to extreme drought and the remainder was abnormally dry.

Grab your warm jackets, Angelenos, because California is having a snow day.

An unusually chilly storm system that originated in Alberta, Canada, was lingering over Nevada and had already blanketed Las Vegas with snow early Thursday. In addition to light rain, some areas in the Southland will see a fresh dusting of powder as the storm makes its way across the region, said David Sweet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

“This is probably the coldest storm system I’ve seen in my time in California,” Sweet said. “We’ve had cold mornings and freeze conditions, but I don’t remember seeing anything quite this cold.”

Snow levels had dropped to about 2,000 feet Thursday, and forecasters predict that up to 6 inches of powder could fall in the eastern San Gabriel Mountains. Snow levels could reach as low as 1,000 feet in Los Angeles County if heavier bands of showers move in through the day. That could mean the Santa Monica Mountains — and even some sections of the Hollywood Hills — might see snow, Sweet said.

The last time it snowed in Los Angeles was in January 1962, according to Los Angeles Public Library archives. During that storm, heavy snow fell in the mountains and high deserts and dusted parts of downtown and West Los Angeles. Most of the city snow, however, melted quickly.

Palmdale received a fresh dusting of powder overnight from the latest storm. Residents brushed the accumulation off their windshields before leaving for work early Thursday.

Falling snow levels prompted Bear Valley, Morongo, Snowline and Rim of the World school districts in San Bernardino County to close schools Thursday for a rare snow day.

“It’s going to be a fairly unusual day,” Sweet said, “to say the least.”

With the snow also comes the potential for significant road closures and travel delays. The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory warning of hail and snow in the mountains and interior valleys through the evening.

Forecasters warn that the 5 Freeway through the Grapevine and Highway 14 from Santa Clarita to the Antelope Valley could see significant delays.

The 5 is likely to be the biggest concern because of the combination of strong northwest winds pushing moisture up the north-facing slopes of nearby mountains and cold temperatures. Motorists could see 3 to 6 inches of snow accumulation at the pass, according to the weather service.

Highway 74 between Palm Desert’s southern boundary and Highway 371 near Anza also remained closed because of snowfall, according to Caltrans.

The storm is expected to move out of the region overnight, but the chilly weather that has Angelenos bundling up will linger a bit longer. Overnight lows will drop into the high 20s in some areas, but the Southland will see some gradual warming beginning Friday and continuing through next week.

This week’s cold snap has dropped temperatures low enough to break at least one record. The Santa Barbara Airport recorded a low of 33 degrees Tuesday, edging out the previous record of 34 degrees set in 1990, Sweet said.

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©2019 the Los Angeles Times

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