Thundershowers returned to the Los Angeles Basin with threats of flooding below hillside canyons Wednesday night after a muggy first day of fall that saw rain-slick freeways snarled by morning rush-hour accidents.
The morning showers were generally gone from the Los Angeles area by noon but came marching back in across the San Gabriel Mountains from the deserts at mid-evening, when the National Weather Service reported that "northeast winds aloft are beginning to move the storms into the Los Angeles Basin again."
The winds, carrying tropical moisture from Mexico, were circulating counterclockwise around an upper-level low-pressure area that seemed about ready to drift off to the east.
About half an inch of rain fell in half an hour at Santiago Peak in eastern Orange County on Wednesday afternoon and an automatic gauge recorded .60 of an inch during a similar period at Inspiration Point, north of La Canada. Homebound commuters were warned of possible flooding in canyons caused by runoff from the hillsides, where the heaviest thundershowers were falling.
But by late evening, the flooding had not materialized.
Other measurable rainfall recorded during the day included 0.59 at Mt. Wilson, 0.36 at Riverside and 0.30 at Big Bear Lake.
Scores of additional lightning strikes were added Wednesday afternoon and night to the more than 4,300 recorded in the Southland by 10 a.m. Wednesday.
But reports at nightfall indicated that the lightning had touched off only nine small spot fires in the Cleveland, San Bernardino and Angeles national forests, all of which were brought quickly under control.
And fire officials said little additional brushland had burned in the 11,000-acre blaze that started last Sunday in the Castaic Lake area of the Angeles National Forest.
"The high humidity and rain have let us get a pretty good handle on it," Tom Horner, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman, said Wednesday afternoon. "It's 60% contained now, and we expect full containment by 6 p.m. Thursday."
Horner said about 1,000 firefighters from several jurisdictions were having increasing success in battling the blaze.
If the news on the fire front was good, however, the news on the traffic front was bad.
California Highway Patrol officers said the first rain of the season, falling on a film of oil and dirt that had been accumulating on the Southland's roadways all summer, combined to make the pavement especially slick Wednesday morning.
In Orange County, the wet highways proved fatal for two motorcyclists. Tuesday night, when the storm began moving through the county, Dennis Spencer Jordan, 35, lost control of his motorcycle while traveling north on the Costa Mesa Freeway near Santa Isabel Avenue. He crashed, was run over by a following car, and was pronounced dead at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital, authorities said,
On Wednesday, Preston E. Taylor, 23, of Huntington Beach died when he fell off his motorcycle and slid under the wheels of a truck trailer. Taylor had been passing stop-and-go traffic on the eastbound Garden Grove Freeway about 3:20 p.m. when he braked hard near Glassell Street, skidded and slid beneath the truck, a California Highway Patrol spokeswoman said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Twenty-seven passengers were taken to local hospitals after complaining of minor to moderate injuries when a Southern California Rapid Transit District bus skidded out of control on wet pavement shortly after 5 a.m. and slammed into a light pole at Long Beach Boulevard and Norton Avenue in Lynwood, RTD officials said.
Long Freeway Delays
A few hours later, as rain showers swept through the Los Angeles Basin, accidents tied up work-bound traffic on the Golden State Freeway in the Pacoima area and the Harbor Freeway in Torrance. Commuters also reported long delays Wednesday morning on the Pomona, San Bernardino and Santa Ana freeways.
Two major power outages blacked out 27 structures--many of them high-rise office buildings--in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday morning, but Department of Water and Power officials said the blackouts apparently were due to equipment failures unrelated to the weather. The longer of the two outages lasted about 40 minutes.
There were two other power outages affecting about 15,000 customers in the Hollywood area--one about 9 a.m. and the other about noon. Once again, the DWP said faulty equipment--not the weather--was to blame.
Meteorologists from the Earth Environment Service, a private weather forecasting agency based in San Francisco, said the storm was actually spawned by two weather systems--an area of warm, moist air lying over northern Baja California and a low-pressure complex lying just off the Southern California coast.