A wind-whipped rainstorm pelted Orange County on Wednesday, snarling traffic, closing Disneyland and dropping six inches of snow and ice on the Ortega Highway. And as nighttime temperatures dipped below 40 degrees, the county became the first in California to open a National Guard armory to shelter the homeless.
In store for today: even more wet misery.
To blame for all the inconvenience is a Pacific storm that has been inching its way across the Southland since late Tuesday. According to meteorologist Dan Bowman of WeatherData, which provides forecasts for The Times, the cold rain predicted for today is Act II of the same storm front.
"There's a dry slot in the storm," Bowman said of the Wednesday afternoon dry spell following the earlier torrent. "But there will be more rain (today) and snow. It will probably be like Wednesday."
That's good and bad news for the county's homeless people, who for the first time in memory were put up in a National Guard armory in Santa Ana to shield them from the inclement weather. With private shelters near capacity throughout the county, those who could not be accommodated elsewhere were brought to the armory on East Warner Avenue in Santa Ana.
The use of the armory, which can provide food and shelter for 100 people, followed Gov. George Deukmejian's lead Tuesday in offering the buildings as temporary shelter if temperatures dropped below 40 degrees.
Capt. Patrick McIntosh of the county Fire Department said that Orange County was the first in the state to take advantage of the governor's decree. The necessary paper work was completed within hours of the armory's 7 p.m. opening.
Shortly afterward, about 30 homeless men and women and several volunteer aides from local charities were on hand.
County officials said they would see what today's weather brings before deciding whether to keep the armory open again tonight.
WeatherData's Bowman said satellite pictures showed winds of up to 40 m.p.h. just off the coast. And if Wednesday was any indication, even more wind-related mishaps could occur today.
At Santa Ana's Crazy Horse Saloon Theatre, an Orange County country-Western showplace, high winds pounding the restaurant's neon sign caused an electrical short that soon engulfed a portion of the roof in flames, Capt. Earl Sisk of the city's Fire Department said. (Photo on Page 2.)
The fire struck shortly after lunchtime Wednesday, when patrons were still in the restaurant. No one was injured in the blaze, which Sisk said caused an estimated $25,000 in damages. The restaurant was closed until repairs could be completed.
Minor street flooding was reported in some areas, and there was the predictable string of bumper thumpers on county streets and freeways. But the latest wave of rain, cold and wind--gusts up to 45 m.p.h. buffeted coastal Orange County by midafternoon--caused no major damage or injuries.
At Newport Beach's Harbor Lutheran Church, however, a 60-foot wooden cross in the church courtyard snapped off near its base after swaying to the rhythm of the wind. The cross fell harmlessly into a flower bed, missing buildings full of people on three sides.
As the day wore on and temperatures chilled, snow piled atop the Santa Ana Mountains. Both lanes of the south county's Ortega Highway were closed for most of the day, reopening for the tail end of the evening rush hour. About 4,000 motorists daily travel the highway, a major east-west artery that stretches some 28 miles between San Juan Capistrano in southern Orange County and Lake Elsinore in Riverside County.
"We've got a six-inch sheet of ice and snow up on the road, and it's still coming down," CHP spokesman Ken Daily said shortly after the highway was closed.
To some, though, the snow was the perfect accent for the season.
"It looks like a Christmas card up there," U. S. Forest Service spokesman Bill Bidanick said.
Overnight, the snow level was expected to fall to 1,500 feet in some places, meaning that some foothill residents could wake to find a layer of white on lawns and shrubs.
And forecasters are not predicting a quick thaw.
Temperatures today will barely top 50 in many areas of the county as the stubborn storm slowly pushes east, Bowman said. The rain predicted for today should clear by tonight, but temperatures are expected to hover in the mid-40s along the coast and the upper 30s inland, he said.
Friday should bring dry, albeit grayish skies. Daytime highs could reach the upper 50s. But more rain may move into the area by Saturday night, Bowman said.
Along the coast, which was pounded Wednesday by high seas, heavy surf up to eight feet is expected today, with winds out of the southwest up to 30 m.p.h.
Santa Ana, believe it or not, was the county hot spot Wednesday, with a high of 56. Elsewhere, Newport Beach reported 55, Fullerton and Juan Capistrano 54, and El Toro 52.
By late Wednesday, rain from the storm ranged from 0.52 of an inch in El Toro to 0.32 of an inch in Santa Ana, far less than had been forecast.