A winter storm that battered Orange County with rain, wind and snow began to squeeze itself dry Thursday, but not before delivering a parting shot of drizzles and icy temperatures that kept a National Guard armory open to shelter the homeless for a second night.
Forecasters said clear skies and sunshine should return today and remain through most of the weekend, although chilly nights may linger a bit longer.
At least nine deaths around Southern California, including that of an Orange County woman, have been blamed on the two-day arctic blast that dumped up to nine inches of snow and ice on the Ortega Highway linking Riverside County with south Orange County.
Elsewhere, the storm was blamed for the deaths of an 8-year-old San Diego County girl and an 80-year-old Wilmington woman, who died as a result of faulty heating systems, and three traffic accident victims and three fishing boat crew members who drowned in the Pacific.
Orange County officials at the armory in Santa Ana said Thursday that the prospect of continued cold nights may prompt them to keep its doors open through the remainder of the week.
About 16,000 customers, many of them in the north county communities of Fullerton, Yorba Linda and Brea, were without power for a time Wednesday night. Winds gusting up to 35 m.p.h. hurled branches and debris into power lines, but by daybreak Thursday, power had been restored to all but a handful of residents, officials said.
The weeklong siege of unseasonable cold, coupled with the soaking rains, pushed gas and electric consumption to record levels Thursday, utility companies reported. Rich Puz, a Southern California Gas Co. spokesman, said, "An awful lot of furnaces have been working overtime this week."
Higher Utility Bills
And customers were warned to expect higher utility bills. Puz estimated that residential customers may pay, on the average, 15% or more on their next gas bill. But for most people, he said, "it's well worth it!"
This week's storm boosted Santa Ana's rainfall totals for the season to 4.92 inches--nearly two inches above normal for this time of year. As of 4 p.m. Thursday, the storm had dumped 0.87 of an inch of rain on the county seat since the Pacific front pushed ashore Wednesday morning.
The heaviest rain fell in north Orange County, where nearly 1.35 inches was recorded in Yorba Linda. Elsewhere, El Toro received 1.10 inches; San Juan Capistrano had 0.84 of an inch; Corona del Mar reported 0.98 of an inch and Huntington Beach had 0.59 of an inch.
Intermittent drizzles on Thursday again made driving in the county difficult, with the predictable rash of accidents. Authorities blamed foul weather for the death of a 31-year-old woman from Orange, whose car skidded off a Lake Forest road.
Lost Control of Car
Nancy Anne Dodge was killed when she lost control of her car westbound on Lake Forest Drive about 5 p.m. Wednesday. The vehicle jumped the center divider and struck a van traveling eastbound near Overlake Drive, California Highway Patrol spokesman Ken Daily said. Dodge was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the van, Susan Ann Brewer, 35, of El Toro, suffered a broken leg and was taken to Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center.
Ortega Highway, the only link between southern Orange County and Lake Elsinore in Riverside County, was reopened late Wednesday night after snow and ice near the road's summit had forced its closure for more than 12 hours. Caltrans crews, using bulldozers in 34-degree temperatures, cleared the mountain roadway, which had been covered at one point by nine inches of snow and ice.
The CHP reported that hundreds of snow-seekers flocked to the area in the Santa Ana Mountains.
Also reopened Thursday were Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm. Both amusement parks closed Wednesday because of the foul weather conditions.
Wednesday's closure of Disneyland was only the third in 25 years, and the first since March, 1983, when a powerful storm that caused more than $100 million in damage countywide shut down the Anaheim amusement park.
More Outdoor Attractions
In Buena Park, Knott's Berry Farm closed for the first time since 1985. Closures of that park have been more frequent because Knott's has more outdoor attractions that are difficult to operate under stormy conditions.
Along the coast, large surf was still battering beaches Thursday, but the high winds which tore some boats from moorings in Newport Harbor had died down.
"It's a typical day after a big storm," said Orange County Sheriff's Capt. Harry Gage, who is in charge of the department's Harbor Patrol office in Newport Beach. "We've spent the day picking branches and other debris out of the water . . . but it's a lot calmer. . . . Now, all we need is a little sunshine."