Just when you thought it was safe to head back out on the road, another powerful storm is expected to batter Orange County and the Los Angeles Basin today, bringing with it astronomical high tides, dangerous surf and even more traffic-snarling rain than last week.
This storm "is looking real strong," said meteorologist Steve Burback of WeatherData Inc., which provides forecasts for The Times. "It's wound up like a hurricane. This one's quite intense from what I can see."
The storm is expected to last through the middle of the week and will probably dump more than the two inches of rain delivered by last week's storm, which caused numerous accidents and monumental traffic jams on freeways.
Burback said that the rain will probably begin in Orange County around noon today, coinciding with a high tide of 3.2 feet. The high tide is expected to combine with four-foot waves, creating potentially treacherous conditions, he said. The wave and wind action, he said, will threaten low-lying coastal areas normally prone to flooding, such as Pacific Coast Highway through Sunset Beach. Southwest-facing beaches will be most threatened.
The predicted high temperature today in Newport Beach is 59 degrees, with an overnight low of 52. In Santa Ana, the high is expected to be 65, with an overnight low of 54.
The National Weather Service also predicted that a third storm is scheduled to touch down Wednesday.
Although the weather service Saturday warned of possible coastal flooding, Los Angeles County fire officials and lifeguards were not taking any unusual precautions.
"If we believed everything the weather service said, that's all we'd be doing is bracing ourselves for storms," said Lt. Mickey Gallagher of the Department of Beaches and Harbors.
The storm center, which began brewing over the eastern Pacific late last week, is also expected to bring heavy snows in the Sierra and strong winds and rain in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"Persons planning outdoor activities in the Sierra (today) should be prepared for harsh winter weather conditions," according to the weather service, which said motorists should carry chains and check the latest weather and road conditions before leaving home.
The promise of precipitation in the northern Sierra was welcome news to skiers, but officials said it will do little to offset the drought. Southern California depends on runoff from snow in the Sierra for its water supply.
Although it has been a wetter season than last for the state, the snow that has fallen so far in the Sierra mountains this year is less than a third of normal, said Maurice Roos, chief hydrologist for the state Department of Water Resources in Sacramento.
Roos said the mountains will need many more storms before April to make a substantial dent in the state's six-year drought.
"One storm," he said, "is not going to do it."
Even though San Francisco is expected to be hit hardest by the latest storm, the gusty winds and rain should pose no major problems on the northern coast. Because there are few houses or other buildings close to the shoreline, the Coast Guard was more concerned about getting small craft out of the water than any property damage that might occur on land.
"This whole area has weathered storms for the last few hundred years, so I'm sure this one will be no problem," said Chief Roy Vest, of the Coast Guard in San Francisco.
From his vantage point in Santa Monica, Gallagher also thought that there was little to worry about.
"Right now the surf has died down," the lifeguard said. "Everything is quiet."
But, he added: "Of course, all that could change any time."
Times staff writers Psyche Pascual and Mark I. Pinsky contributed to this story.