A fast-moving low-pressure system brought rain and pea-sized hail to Orange County on Tuesday, triggering a rash of accidents that reduced interstate traffic to a crawl from Orange south to San Juan Capistrano.
The storm front, which was expected to clear the county by midday today and usher in partly cloudy skies and warmer temperatures, did not bring major thundershowers but just enough rain to cause the predictable fender-benders and traffic tieups.
Residents of Laguna Beach, however, did report seeing hail the size of peas around 3:35 p.m., and there were reports of sleet from Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach.
'From Accident to Accident'
The worst of the accidents came at 1:15 p.m. in Mission Viejo on the San Diego Freeway just south of Oso Parkway, about an hour after thunderstorms rolled across the county. A second major mishap, this one involving two trucks on the Santa Ana Freeway near the Chapman Avenue exit in Orange, followed around 4 p.m. and tied up traffic for two hours.
"This is what tends to happen on days like this when it rains," said California Highway Patrol spokesman Paul Caldwell. "Spin-outs, cars sliding off ramps. We go from accident to accident."
CHP officer Ken Daily said the accident in Mission Viejo was caused by the unidentified driver of a white Thunderbird who cut across three lanes of traffic and forced the driver of a southbound tractor-trailer rig to slam on his brakes. The truck jackknifed on the road and ended up on its side, spilling potted trees across the freeway and blocking all four lanes of southbound traffic.
"It caused one hell of a problem northbound" as well, Daily said, because motorists in the unobstructed northbound lanes slowed to see what had happened. Northbound traffic was backed up from Oso Parkway south to San Juan Capistrano, while southbound traffic was backed up past the junction of the Santa Ana and San Diego Freeways.
Southbound traffic was routed along the shoulder and near the center divider as the truck, which was carrying mature trees in pots of earth, was cleared from the road shortly before 5:30 p.m.
Similarly, the Santa Ana Freeway accident caused major delays. In that case, a tractor-trailer rig and a camper trailer both jackknifed in the northbound lanes, closing two of the three lanes of freeway.
Rash of Accidents
Also, police dispatchers from around the county reported a rash of accidents, including non-injury mishaps on the Riverside Freeway at Kraemer Boulevard and on the Orange Freeway near Chapman Avenue in Orange.
Mike Smith, a meteorologist with WeatherData, which provides forecasts for The Times, said the rains were a result of a low-pressure system that moved into central California, bringing thunderstorms to the Southland and snow to the mountains.
Hail was reported as far north as Santa Barbara and in other parts of Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
"Things are starting to calm down," Smith said. "The low should be well inland by tomorrow (Wednesday), and we'll be looking at partly cloudy skies and slightly warmer temperatures. The reason it is so cold in some places is that we have a low-pressure system aloft that is very cold, and some of that cold air makes its way to the surface.
"California periodically gets cool damp weather in the wintertime and this is the type you get," he said. El Toro got the greatest amount of rainfall Tuesday at .21 of an inch for the 24-hour period ended at 4 p.m. Santa Ana and Newport Beach each got just .013 inches, and hardly a trace was reported in San Juan Capistrano.
San Clemente and Santa Ana shared the countywide high temperature at 58, with San Juan Capistrano and Newport Beach reporting 56 and El Toro 52. San Juan Capistrano had the coldest overnight temperature at 36, followed by El Toro at 39 and Santa Ana at 40.
The storm that left Orange County wet was felt much more farther north, where hail and snow were reported in Los Angeles and Ventura counties and 13,000 businesses lost power.
The cold weather that has marked most of the month continued through most of the state, with snow again descending into the Southland mountains and foothills and, farther north, falling at San Marcos Pass north of Santa Barbara, in the Carmel Valley and in the mountains above Santa Cruz and on the San Francisco Peninsula.
Los Angeles had a record low maximum temperature for the date: 52, eclipsing by three degrees the old mark of 55 set in 1955. The overnight low was 44.
By 3 p.m., .23 of an inch of rain had fallen at the Los Angeles Civic Center, and by 4 p.m., .16 had been recorded at Long Beach, .15 in Riverside and .04 in San Diego. Mt. Wilson got seven inches of snow.
Weather forecasters said that overall amounts of precipitation would be light and that the fast-moving storm should be gone by today, leaving behind scattered clouds and temperatures in the high 50s.
But there was a slightly ominous note in the forecast for New Year's Day, with its Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl game in Pasadena.