Surfers at Huntington Beach had to wade barefoot through a winter wonderland to reach the water Wednesday morning and there was a skier on Pacific Coast Highway as a chilly Arctic air mass staged a rear-guard action to cover its departure from Southern California.
While the white blanket thrown over Huntington Beach was actually hail, said weather forecasters, there was real snow Wednesday afternoon in such unlikely places as Tarzana, Northridge, Torrance, Fontana and Redlands.
Funnel clouds that did not touch the ground were reported in the San Bernardino and San Diego areas.
There was only an occasional rain shower, however, and the temperatures were slightly warmer. The snow that fell on the lowlands was "more of a curiosity than a travel hazard," the National Weather Service said.
It was a different story in the mountains, where chains were required on most highways. Snow showers were reported Wednesday afternoon in the higher elevations and along the southwestern slopes of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains. Travelers were warned about fog, snow and poor visibility.
The snow level was expected to remain at about 2,500 feet overnight.
Today and Friday, the forecasters said, the Southland should have mostly clear weather with some variable cloudiness and Civic Center high temperatures will be in the low 60s. There will be some local gusty north-to-northwest winds 15 to 25 m.p.h.
"That thing really drags on down there," Cary Schudy of the private, San Francisco-based forecasting agency, Earth Environment Service, said Wednesday. "I can only say what I've been saying for three days: It'll be gone tomorrow."
Wednesday's Civic Center high reached 57 degrees after an overnight low of 41. Relative humidity ranged from 82% to 45%.
By 4 p.m., the day's rainfall total at the Civic Center was .17 of an inch, bringing the season total to 6.77. Normal to date is 10.80 inches.
Record Low Maximum
For the second day in a row, the University of California, Riverside, recorded a record for the lowest maximum temperature on the books. It was 50 degrees. The previous record for a Feb. 25 was 52, registered in 1962.
The frozen rain that whitened much of Huntington Beach on Wednesday morning as the persistent front finally began to drift away was enough to force closure of a 1 1/2-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway.
And it was good enough for the skier seen enjoying himself on the closed thoroughfare.
An icy, three-inch coat was left on houses, cars, lawns and on the beach.
There was a traffic jam at the entrance to Huntington Beach State Park and in the residential neighborhood across Pacific Coast Highway as motorists pressed in to see what they had heard was honest-to-goodness snow.
'Lost Their Minds'
"People lost their minds for a while," state lifeguard Paul Milosch said.
He said they were getting out of their automobiles to take photographs and children paused on their way to school to throw what they assumed were snowballs.
Police closed the coast highway between Newland and Brookhurst streets to commuter traffic from 7 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. after eight skidding accidents. They brought in bulldozers to clear the frozen mantle so traffic could move.
They also shut the highway's Santa Ana River Bridge, between Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, from 7 to 7:30 a.m. because the accumulation of hail made crossing treacherous.
In the La Crescenta area, however, the snow was genuine--as it was in many Southern California locations above 1,500 feet. People skied and tobogganed in the streets.
Plane Search Called Off
A search of the ocean off Malibu for a light plane that was knocked from the sky by lightning Tuesday evening was called off late Wednesday afternoon. Aboard the twin-engine Piper Seminole were instructor William Cody, 23, of Northridge and Ed Grinstead, 25, of Texas.
The Coast Guard said Grinstead had purchased the plane Friday and was on a familiarization flight with Cody.
The hunt continued, meanwhile, for another missing aircraft, a single-engine Cessna that left Boulder City, Nev., on Sunday bound for Fullerton with John Morrow and his wife, Pat, of Yorba Linda. With them were their three poodles.
Civil Air Patrol Col. Ernie Pearson said searchers had picked up a couple of apparent locater transmitter signals in the Mt. Baldy and Lake Arrowhead areas, "but the weather has hampered us considerably."
Interstate 5, which had been closed in the Grapevine area because of snow Tuesday night, reopened at 1:30 a.m., the California Highway Patrol said. Nevertheless, icy road conditions prompted CHP officers to escort groups of cars along that stretch throughout the day as snow continued to fall.
Late Wednesday, the CHP shut down Interstate 5 again briefly, then renewed the escort service. Chains were required on Interstate 15 through the Cajon Pass because of snow.