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Storm a Boon to Skiers but a Headache for Drivers : Weather: Resorts get up to five feet of snow. Slick roads play havoc with motorists throughout the state.

February 19, 1990|STEVE PADILLA and PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A severe winter storm that dumped heavy rain in Southland coastal areas and up to five feet of snow in local mountains over the weekend rumbled slowly into Nevada on Sunday.

Even as the storm began diminishing Sunday, snow continued to blanket the mountains and some higher points in the valleys. Forecasters expected more to fall late Sunday night and early this morning above 3,000 feet.

"It's a blizzard," Benno Nager, general manager of Snow Valley Ski Resort in the San Bernardino Mountains, said Sunday afternoon.

The resort, which had been shut down since snow clogged California 330 on Saturday, had from three to five feet of new powder. It was the largest snowfall Nager could recall in many years.

But the snow and rain, while encouraging to forecasters, was not enough to call an end to California's persistent drought.

"It's certainly very good news," said Daryl Williams, a spokesman for the National Weather Service. But the state still needs "a couple of these" storms to return to normal rain and snow levels, he said.

As of late Sunday, the storm had dropped 2.51 inches of rain at the Los Angeles Civic Center, bringing the season's total to 5.43 inches, still below the 10.01 inches that would be normal.

The bulk of the storm was expected to be out of the state by this morning, leaving the Southland with partly cloudy but rain-free skies. Northwest winds up to 25 m.p.h. are also in the offing along with slightly warmer temperatures.

In Northern California, a series of mudslides in the Sierra Nevada closed 85 miles of Interstate 80 between Applegate and the Nevada border. Officials predicted the slides--a jumble of mud, snow and rocks--would not be cleared until 3 a.m. today. As word of the road closure spread, some motorists turned around and drove the wrong way on Interstate 80 until they reached off-ramps leading to alternate routes, CHP Officer Mike Winarski said in Sacramento.

"It's utter insanity," he said.

Thousands of motorists, unable to take Interstate 80, clogged Interstate 50 to reach Lake Tahoe and the region's ski slopes. The trip from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe, usually a two-hour drive, took six to eight hours Sunday, Winarski said. At one point, traffic backed up 15 miles.

"It's a zoo," he said. "And tomorrow is still another holiday."

Williams said Alpine Meadows and Sugar Bowl, two ski resorts near Lake Tahoe, reported that the storm dumped more than 50 inches of snow. Up to six feet of snow was reported at higher elevations of the Sierra.

The unusually cold storm broke record lows in the Bay Area. The mercury barely reached 38 degrees in San Francisco Sunday, breaking the old record of 39, set in 1890.

"We may see some more record cold temperatures tonight," Williams said Sunday afternoon.

Sunday's Los Angeles Civic Center high reached 55 degrees after an overnight low of 49. Highs in the mid to upper 50s are expected today.

Elsewhere around the state, snow fell at low elevations, even dusting Death Valley.

Residents said snow fell in Granada Hills, Tujunga and Chatsworth on Sunday afternoon and evening and hail covered lawns in Mission Hills. The unusual snow in the Valley melted soon after hitting the ground, residents reported.

The CHP reported that Interstate 5 between Hungry Valley Road and Laval Road was closed to all traffic because of heavy snow and icy conditions shortly after nightfall Sunday. There was no projected time for reopening the so-called Ridge Route, the major artery for motorists traveling between Southern and Northern California.

Earlier, about 2:30 p.m., a 40-mile stretch of the freeway between Lake Hughes Road near Castaic and Leval Road in Kern County was closed while CHP officers helped clear accidents, said Glenda Lewis, a Caltrans dispatcher in Lebec. The number of injuries was not immediately known. Lewis said most of the accidents were caused by drivers traveling too fast on the wet pavement.

"People are driving like it's dry," she said.

Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies in Santa Clarita were trying to determine whether the wet weather contributed to a one-car fatal accident Sunday morning. Sgt. Tom Davidheiser said a Chevrolet station wagon skidded off Soledad Canyon Road about three miles north of Bouquet Canyon Road and slammed into a power pole.

The driver was pronounced dead at the scene. His name was withheld pending notification of relatives.

A snow advisory was posted for Southland mountains above 3,000 feet, where three to five inches were expected Sunday night. Six to 10 inches of snow was expected above 6,000 feet.

The storm dumped two inches of rain in Ventura County after two nights of subfreezing temperatures that caused an estimated $24 million in damage to the county's strawberry, citrus and avocado crops. The rain did little additional damage, however, said David Buettner, the county's chief deputy agricultural commissioner.

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