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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Arctic Storm Drops Blanket of White on Area Mountains

March 07, 2000|GINA PICCALO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An arctic blast hit Ventura County on Monday, leaving mountain residents and campers under as much as a foot of snow, closing a 25-mile stretch of California 33 and drenching the coast and valley with more than an inch of rain.

Forest Ranger Charlie Robinson watched the rain turn to snow as he headed to work from his home in Ventura to the Upper Ojai station of Los Padres National Forest.

"It was so cold this morning that the rain seemed to be turning to slush in Oak View," Robinson said. "The thermometer in my office said 35 degrees when I got in and it held there all morning."

Although a heavy surf advisory is in effect through this afternoon, with 4- to 6-foot swells and sets as high as 8 feet, locals should get a break from the rain today. The forecast calls for breezy weather and partly cloudy skies with highs in the 60s.

But more rain is expected Wednesday through early Friday, with highs in the mid-50s and lows in the 40s, National Weather Service specialist Stuart Seto said.

"Every two days over the next week, we're going to have another storm come in," Seto said.

Snow fell Monday at elevations as low as 1,800 feet. Children in Upper Ojai spent the day sledding down snow-covered hillsides and tossing snowballs, while Caltrans workers cleared toppled trees and tree limbs from roads.

As soon as California 33 reopened Monday afternoon, dozens of snow-happy motorists crowded the road, Robinson said.

Snow covered the Wheeler Gorge Camp Ground where retirees Betty Thompson and her husband, Lloyd, have parked their 40-foot camper since September. But the Hawthorne, Nev., couple weren't worried about being snowbound at the canyon site nine miles north of Ojai.

"We weren't really prepared for it, but we're used to it," Betty Thompson said. "We looked out [about 4 a.m.], saw there was snow on the ground, rolled over and went back to sleep."

The late-season cold front surprised weather forecasters. It was the biggest March snowfall in at least 10 years, according to some longtime Ojai residents.

"I don't remember [the snowfall] being this low [in elevation] this late in the year," Seto said. "It's almost springtime."

The storm brought more than an inch of rain to most other areas of the county. But Ventura County Flood Control engineers were confident that Monday's rain wouldn't over-saturate the area.

"With having several days of no rain, we're seeing a lot of it soak in," engineer Robin Jester said. "For the most part, we haven't had more than half an inch of rain in 24 hours. That's nothing to get scared about."

Rain-slicked roads resulted in 15 minor accidents from 4 a.m. to noon Monday, which California Highway Patrol Officer David Webb called "a light day."

"The more rain days we have, the better people seem to drive in the rain," he said.

Rocks on the road blocked traffic south of Mugu Rock and along California 150. Flooding closed several roads in the Sulphur Mountains east of Oak View. Snow and debris blocked passages in the Matilija Canyon.

In Simi Valley, nearly 900 customers, including the Simi Valley Police Department, were without electricity for two hours Monday after a car slammed into a power pole on Main Street in Piru about 9 a.m., Southern California Edison spokesman Ernie Villegas said.

Heavy weekend rains damaged some harvest-ready strawberries, said Rex Laird, Ventura County Farm Bureau executive director.

"If we don't get some dry weather soon, we're going to start to see some delays in how soon they can get back into the fields to repair the damage," he said. "And that sets back the crop pattern for the next season. It's not that it's raining. It's that we've gotten so much in such a short time."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

County Rainfall

Here are rainfall figures from the Ventura County Flood Control District for the 24-hour period ending at 8 a.m. Monday. Oct. 1 is the beginning of the official rain year.

*--*

24-hour rain to Rainfall Percent of Normal 8 a.m. since normal rainfall Location Monday Oct. 1 rainfall to date Camarillo 1.04 9.13 91% 10.03 Casitas Dam 1.44 18.13 102% 17.78 Casitas Rec. Center 1.06 16.64 93% 17.96 Fillmore 0.75 12.11 68% 17.78 Matilija Dam 0.92 19.83 97% 20.42 Moorpark 1.04 9.14 84% 10.94 Ojai .90 14.19 88% 16.11 Upper Ojai .86 16.72 95% 17.52 Oxnard .57 10.45 95% 10.99 Piru .82 9.76 76% 12.85 Port Hueneme .68 10.07 94% 10.74 Santa Paula .89 11.75 87% 13.52 Simi Valley .52 9.43 89% 10.62 Thousand Oaks .61 8.47 74% 11.46 Ventura Govt. Center .91 13.17 108% 12.17

*--*

Source: Ventura County Flood Control District

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