SAN DIEGO — Spring swept into San Diego County Wednesday evening in the wake of strong, cold winds, driving rain, snow, hail, thunder and lightning.
The dramatic but wet prelude to spring's 7:02 p.m. arrival caused a series of flooded roadways and reduced traffic on Interstate 8 to one lane in each direction east of Alpine.
The storms that surged over the county Wednesday morning and again at nightfall were the lastest in a series of powerful tempests stacked up over the Gulf of Alaska.
The Wednesday storms brought the county its second tornado in as many days, the National Weather Service said. The twister began as a waterspout about 12:30 p.m. off the coast near Camp Pendleton. It roared ashore near the main entrance to the Marine base and then quickly vanished.
"Witnesses said water was spraying up everywhere, but the (twister) totally dissipated when it hit the beach," Lt. Michael DiLullo said.
Reports of the twister prompted the National Weather Service to issue a tornado alert for North County. The alert was called off about 1:30 p.m.
The heavy rain caused more mudslides, flooded highways and 84 traffic accidents that required assistance from California Highway Patrol officers, CHP spokesman Phil Konstantin said.
Snow flurries forced CHP officials to close all but one lane in each direction of Interstate 8 east of Alpine at 7 p.m. Drivers on I-8 east of Alpine were advised to use chains. They were required on all state roads in the mountains.
Traffic slowed to a crawl on freeways Wednesday morning and again during the afternoon rush hour, when downpours made driving hazardous. Many streets and highways were flooded, and some were closed.
Officials closed California 78 near Oceanside in the morning, as well as Del Dios Highway in East County and California 67 near Lakeside. All were reopened later in the day.
An Escondido woman was injured on Interstate 15 when her car hit a mudslide from a nearby construction site, CHP spokesman John Canning said. Margarita Garlejo hit the mud shortly before 6 a.m. south of Rancho California Road in Riverside County, causing her car to spin out of control and flip over. She was treated at a local hospital for a minor hip injury and released.
Wednesday's storm added to the woes of San Diego Gas & Electric, which has been scrambling since Tuesday to respond to power outages. Workers had barely finished restoring power to more than 17,000 customers affected by Tuesday's storm when Wednesday's storm arrived.
SDG&E spokesman Fred Vaughn said a bolt of lightning blew up a transformer in an alley east of Balboa Park about 5 p.m. More than 1,500 homes were without power before repairs were completed later in the evening, Vaughn said.
Officials said lightning also struck a nearby house in the 3000 block of Quince Street, starting a fire that sent Delores Strack, 77, to the hospital.
San Diego Fire Capt. Al McDonald said lightning struck the house at 4:36 p.m., hitting a metal stove vent in the kitchen. The bolt traveled through the roof and into the bathroom, where it blew off the ceiling, started a fire and caused an estimated $10,000 damage.
McDonald said that Strack is wheelchair-bound, but, when firefighters broke through the door, they found her standing up, apparently stunned. She was treated for smoke inhalation and taken to Mercy Hospital, where she was listed in good condition.
The heavy rain also caused sewage to spill into Mission Bay, a County Department of Health Services spokesman said. The spill, which began about 10 a.m., dumped about 22,500 gallons into the bay at De Anza Cove before it was stopped at 1 p.m., spokesman Dan Avera said.
National Weather Service forecaster Dan Atkin said Wednesday's storm raised the seasonal rain total since July 1 to 8.35 inches, 0.64 of an inch above normal for this time. Atkin said San Diego is now less than one inch short of the normal rainfall for the entire season, which ends June 30.
"We could be up to the whole season normal by the time the weekend is over, with more likely to come," Atkin said. "It looks like we'll be above normal rainfall for the season here in San Diego, whatever good that does."
By contrast, San Diego had only 5.57 inches of rain at this time last year, he added.
Despite the relief from the drought, San Diego County Water Authority officials warned that the 50% cutback scheduled to begin April 1 will take effect as planned. But agency spokesman Jim Melton held out hope that the added rain might ease the planned cutback.
"We're in contact on a regular basis throughout the day with the state and the Metropolitan Water District. We're just waiting to hear if there's going to be a change. We would not be surprised to have a change, but as of now there is none," Melton said.
But, even if the cutback is reduced by 10% to 40%, or lower, Melton warned that "people will still have to implement a severe cutback." He said "there's no getting around it."