A rare December thunderstorm struck Los Angeles on Tuesday, dropping hail and snow over widely scattered areas, cutting off power to 13,000 homes and businesses and briefly closing Interstate 5 north over the Ridge Route for the third time in the last two weeks.
With snow again descending into the Southland mountains and foothills, and further north falling at San Marcos Pass north of Santa Barbara, in the Carmel Valley and the mountains immediately above Santa Cruz and the San Francisco Peninsula, the cold weather that has marked most of the month continued throughout most of the state.
Los Angeles had a record low maximum temperature for the date of 52, eclipsing by three degrees the old mark of 55 set in 1955. The overnight low was 44.
By 5 p.m., .23 of an inch of rain had fallen at the Los Angeles Civic Center, .16 had been recorded at Long Beach, .48 in Woodland Hills, .41 in San Gabriel, .10 in Santa Monica, .21 at El Toro in Orange County, .15 in Riverside and .04 in San Diego. Mt. Wilson, which got seven inches of snow, reported .64 of an inch or rain.
By evening most of the rainfall in metropolitan Los Angeles had ceased. Forecasters said the fast-moving storm should be gone by today, leaving scattered clouds and temperatures as high as 60 in its wake.
But there was a slightly ominous note in the forecast for New Year's Day, with its traditional Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl game.
Mike Smith of WeatherData Inc., which provides forecasts for The Times, estimated there is a 25% chance of rain for New Year's Day, rising to 50% that night.
"My best estimate is that the Rose Parade and the game will probably get in OK," Smith said. "But there's a chance of rain."
A loud clap of thunder was heard over downtown Los Angeles shortly before noon Tuesday, and about the same time, lightning split a large tree in Altadena and damaged six homes in the 1900 block of Midlothian Drive. No injuries were reported.
But for 15-year-old Antonia List, it was a scary experience. She was standing outside at one of the homes and saw the lightning bolt hit the tree.
"The last thing I saw before I hit the ground was wood flying everywhere," she said.
Meanwhile, high winds and hail were reported over a wide area of the Los Angeles Basin.
Winds were clocked at 55 m.p.h. in Long Beach as a squall line moved offshore, tipping over a few sailboats. However, no injuries were reported.
An auto repair shop at 1250 S. La Brea Ave. in Los Angeles had its corrugated tin roof blown into a side street, smashing a municipal lamp standard.
"The city told us we'd be assessed $10,000 if it (the remains of the roof) wasn't cleared out of the street in two hours," Joesy Gonzalez, an employee at Filipinas Auto Care, said early Tuesday afternoon. "All the men are out working on it now. The hail was really coming down when this happened."
Hail also fell in West Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley and elsewhere.
A Southern California Edison spokesman said that about 10,000 of the utility's customers suffered power outages, at least briefly, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power reported approximately 3,000 outages.
The California Highway Patrol, meanwhile, said that traffic accidents, mostly minor, were running 35% above normal, not unusual for a windy, rainy day.
Magic Mountain amusement park north of Los Angeles closed down in the early afternoon because of the weather.
Snow falling along Interstate 5 near the Grapevine forced the CHP to close the northbound lanes at Lake Hughes Road for an hour at about 1:30 p.m., while the southbound lanes were open only with CHP escorts. Snowy conditions also were reported along Interstate 15 through the Cajon Pass.
Chains were required on all roads leading into the Southern California mountains.
Further north in the High Sierra, the snow was heavier and the road conditions, even for winter-equipped drivers, just as bad or worse.
Interstate 80 over Donner Summit was reported at a standstill, with tow trucks struggling to pull cars out of snow-filled ditches. California 50 was closed for hours.
Buried in Snow
An avalanche at the 8,000-foot level on the south face of Ward Peak, at the Alpine Meadows Ski Resort in the Lake Tahoe area, buried three skiers shortly after noon. But rescuers reached them within 15 minutes and none was seriously hurt.
Tuesday's rainfall in Los Angeles helped keep the season's total well above normal for the date, according to the National Weather Service. Through 5 p.m., 1.84 inches of rain had fallen at the Civic Center during the month, bringing the total for the season to 5.44 inches. This compared with last season's 3.99 inches at this time and a normal season total to date of 4.24 inches.
Relative humidity at the Civic Center Tuesday ranged from 83% to 58%.
WeatherData's Smith said that the thunderstorms were over, for the most part, by early afternoon and that he expected the weather would dry out by this morning.
Meanwhile, agricultural officials, assessing crop damage after weeks of chilly weather, said citrus, avocados and strawberries have been adversely affected in Southern California.
Avi Crane, crop statistics manager for the California Avocado Commission in Irvine, said preliminary estimates are that the 1988 avocado crop has been reduced by 5% to 10%, not only from the cold weather but also high winds.
Bill Snodgrass, assistant agricultural commissioner in San Diego County, put the avocado loss there at $1 million.