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Winter weather makes delayed arrival in Southern California

The latest in a series of storms is expected to arrive today, bringing 9 inches of snow to the mountains, as well as more rain and winds.

February 09, 2009|Mitchell Landsberg and Maeve Reston

For a while, it seemed as if winter had taken a vacation from Southern California, going wherever it is that winters go in the winter. Like Chicago.

But it's back.

After an unseasonably warm and dry January, winter weather has returned in the form of a series of cool storms that have tracked down from the Gulf of Alaska in assembly-line fashion, with the latest expected to lash the region today with wind, rain and mountain snow.

"It's just been such a rapid transition from a very warm January to what's turning out to be a cold and wet start to February," said Mark Moede, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Diego. High pressure had staved off stormy weather after Christmas, Moede said, but a low-pressure trough has settled over the region, bringing the change. "Now we're into an actual wintertime pattern," he said Sunday.

Snow levels were expected to drop to 3,500 feet as up to 9 inches of snow falls over the mountains of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, along with rain at lower elevations and gusty winds. The storm was expected to leave the area sometime after midnight, with another storm expected by next weekend.

Although this was not an especially wet storm, the return of wetter weather should make at least a small dent in the statewide drought. "We'll get that snowpack a little closer to where it's supposed to be," Moede said. The latest figures from the state Department of Water Resources show the water content in California's mountain snowpack, a vital source of drinking water, at about 55% of average for this time of year.

So far, wet conditions have contributed to dozens of traffic accidents across the region, including one Sunday in which two young men were killed in south Orange County.

The victims, both 19, were going west on Los Alisos Boulevard near Trabuco Road in Mission Viejo when their car veered off the road and hit a tree. Their names were not immediately released.

"At the time it was not raining; however, the roads were wet and we're surmising a combination of speed and wet roads" led to the accident, said Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Kurt Vasentine.

The California Highway Patrol recorded 50 traffic accidents in Los Angeles County between midnight Saturday and mid-afternoon Sunday, nearly double the norm, according to Officer Anthony Martin.

That was down substantially from Saturday, however, when wetter weather contributed to bumper-car conditions on local freeways, with the CHP responding to 260 collisions in a 12-hour period.

"A lot of the collisions we see are on onramps, offramps and transition roads," said CHP Officer Francisco Villalobos. "There are curvatures in the roadways and they're taking the roads way too fast. We are requesting you to slow down and give yourself a lot more time."

The rain also raised concerns about mudslides in fire-damaged areas.

Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Ron Myers said there were reports of minor slides Friday on Lopez Canyon Road in Sylmar, but he was unaware of major problems Sunday.

Parts of Sylmar were damaged in the recent Sayre fire, and officials were encouraging residents in erosion-prone areas to pick up sandbags from local fire stations.

In Orange County, authorities were keeping an especially close watch on neighborhoods in Yorba Linda that were scorched by November's Freeway Complex fire, as well as Silverado and Modjeska canyons, which were charred by the Santiago fire in the fall of 2007.

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mitchell.landsberg@latimes.com

maeve.reston@latimes.com

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