A powerful Alaskan storm slammed into the Southland Wednesday, scattering snow from the sands of Malibu to the edge of the Mojave Desert, closing parts of interstates 5, 10 and 15 and whipping up rainy winds that knocked out power in more than 177,000 households.
The onslaught was blamed for the deaths of at least six people.
A 3-year-old Agua Dulce girl died in a head-on collision on a snowy road near Newhall, and a man in his 20s was killed in a smash-up on the rain-slick San Bernardino Freeway.
Winds that had been clocked as high as 100 m.p.h. on Tuesday night toppled a power pole in Bakersfield onto the car of Miguel Delgado, 57, of McFarland, killing him, the California Highway Patrol reported.
As Wednesday night fell, Coast Guard and Navy rescuers abandoned their search of the waters off San Nicolas Island for three sea-urchin divers in wet suits who went into the water on surfboards when their San Pedro-based boat foundered in high seas on Tuesday night.
Six other crew members were plucked safely from the water by a Navy helicopter Wednesday afternoon. They were taken to an aircraft carrier that was on maneuvers in the area. All six were reported in good condition. The Coast Guard added that, based on information from the survivors, there was no hope that the other three had survived. (See story on Page 3.)
Another Navy helicopter rescued five people and a dog from a sinking fishing boat off San Clemente Island just after dawn Wednesday.
The storm, which had brought .33 of an inch of rain to downtown Los Angeles by mid-evening, seemed to be weakening, said Dan Bowman of Weather Data Inc., which provides forecasts for The Times.
"The storm is drawing in a mass of drier air from the Southwest and that will take some of the moisture out of it," he said.
Bowman forecast that "there may be a few thunderstorms" this morning "and some rain" the rest of today but added that "by Friday it should start to clear."
However, gale warnings were issued for the outer and inner waters off Southern California and a heavy surf with waves as high as eight feet was predicted. Officials warned owners of coastal property of possible damage when high tide is reached at 6 a.m. today.
The National Weather Service said the next storm churning in the North Pacific could bring a chance of showers late Saturday.
For people who only had to enjoy the unusual view, the rare snow that frosted the varied Southland terrain--as deep as six inches in some low-lying areas--looked like "a winter wonderland," said Elizabeth Wiecheck, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Restoration Trust.
In the mountains, between 2 1/2 and 3 feet of snow covered the ground at Tehachapi. About a foot and a half was reported at Mt. Wilson in the San Gabriel Mountains. Big Bear, in the San Bernardino Mountains, reported 12 inches. Up to another foot of snow was expected in the high country overnight, the weather service said.
Downtown, the snow level reached the 26th floor of the Arco Plaza, where accountant Bill Metzler and his colleagues saw flakes falling outside their office windows.
"It (snow) came down mixed with the rain for about 45 minutes," Metzler said. "Of course, we don't know how many floors down it lasted."
Overall, in its fierce swath across the Southland, the "whacking big storm," as Deputy Los Angeles Mayor Mike Gage called it:
- Closed 50 miles of Interstate 5 above Castaic indefinitely, as big-rig trucks jackknifed in snow on the heavily traveled road. It also indefinitely shut down Interstate 15 north of San Bernardino above the Cajon Pass as well as Interstate 10 between Cabazon and Beaumont and parts of the Ortega Highway, linking Orange and Riverside counties. Parts of Angeles Crest Highway also were closed.
- Kept about 16,000 schoolchildren out of classes as four of the five school districts in the Santa Clarita Valley closed Wednesday, and will likely be closed today.
- Tripled the number of traffic accidents. In Palmdale, the CHP was so busy that it asked people to come in to its offices and fill out their own reports on minor accidents.
- Swept the streets of homeless, as the cold sent them scurrying to already-crowded shelters. "We found three people this morning actually huddled in our alcove under blankets," said Maxene Johnston, spokeswoman for the downtown Weingart Center, one of the largest of the Skid Row shelters, which was "at or above" its 600-person capacity.