Snow in spring? California storm cheers skiing fans
LOS ANGELES — Fresh snow coated the slopes of the Sierra Nevada on Thursday as a late-spring storm with winter-like potency moved through California, forcing rescues and adding to snowpack and rainfall totals that are already well above normal.
Authorities rescued four hikers caught in the weather on the far north's Redwood Coast and two people trapped on a tiny island in the suddenly fast-flowing Los Angeles River.
Mammoth Mountain, a popular ski area in the Sierra, reported a foot (30 centimeters) of new snow on its peak, boosting the season total at the summit to nearly 58 feet (18 meters). The resort already announced it had enough snow to allow skiing and boarding through the Fourth of July.
Jason Elrick eagerly followed the storm's progress from his desk at a staffing office in Chino, east of Los Angeles. As the snow piled up at Mammoth, he vowed to make the five-hour drive to the resort late Thursday and hit the slopes in the morning.
"I have a bit of flexibility at work so I can say, 'Boss, it's snowing. I have to go,' " Elrick said. "The conditions are prime. It's like the middle of winter up there."
Elrick, 37, said he expects Friday to be a "bluebird day" — skier slang for sunny conditions following a major snow dump.
The wettest winter in years nearly eliminated drought conditions in California. While frequently disrupting travel, a long series of storms stoked a big part of the state's water supply — the Sierra snowpack that melts and runs off into reservoirs during spring and summer.
More snow was expected, and winter storm warnings would remain in effect until early Friday for the southern Sierra from Yosemite south to Kern County, the weather service said.
"Looks like a Winter Wonderland in mid-May!" the Sacramento National Weather Service tweet ed, showing traffic camera images of snowy Interstate 80, a major route that crosses the Sierra north of Lake Tahoe.
The unusually cold and wet late-season storm not only put a gray, wintry cast on the Golden State, it posed a problem for travelers and outdoor enthusiasts who normally find moderate conditions by late spring.
The California Department of Transportation closed State Route 89 over Monitor Pass. Yosemite National Park earlier announced the closure of a popular road because of the storm.
Sequoia National Forest officials warned people wondering when campgrounds and access roads will open that snow is deeper than normal, and recreation sites, roads and trails will be wetter than average. Forest crews normally try to open most campgrounds in time for the Memorial Day weekend, the forest said.
The storm unleashed rain in Northern California on Wednesday. Some San Francisco Bay Area cities received around an inch (2.5 centimeters), and an area to the north in Sonoma County that's typically very wet got more than 5 inches (12.7 centimeters).
Before dawn, Humboldt County sheriff's deputies found four hikers who had trekked from their vehicles several miles to camp at Gold Bluffs Beach. The storm blew away their tent, and they took shelter in a restroom facility.
The rain spread south and reached Southern California in time to make the Thursday morning commute slippery and adding to seasonal rainfall that's already above normal.
Downtown Los Angeles received 0.48 inches of rain, a record for the date, and a half-dozen other communities also broke rainfall records, the National Weather Service said.
Alicia Ochoa said she briefly considered staying home from her job as a street vendor in Santa Ana. Instead she bundled up with a sweater, jacket and hat and ventured out in the rain.
"The water isn't going to stop me," Ochoa, 74, said in Spanish while setting up sodas for sale. "We've got to work."
The storm turned the normally languid Los Angeles River into a torrent, trapping two people on a small island of vegetation northeast of downtown. A Fire Department swift-water rescue team managed to reach them by boat.
Snowfall in Southern California mountains could reach elevations as low as 6,000 feet (1,829 meters) Thursday night, the San Diego weather office said.
Forecasters predicted more rain during the weekend and into early next week.
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Associated Press writers John Antczak in Los Angeles and Amy Taxin in Orange County, California, contributed to this report.