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Rain moves in; burn areas brace for new damage

Today's storm could produce at least three inches of rain, plus dangerous surf and high wind. Two more are expected to follow.

January 18, 2010|By Jack Leonard and Rich Connell
  • Umbrellas bloom as pedestrians cross Highland Avenue at Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood. Sunday evening's rain "just kind of set the stage for what's coming," said Carl Erickson, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather.
Umbrellas bloom as pedestrians cross Highland Avenue at Hollywood Boulevard… (Bret Hartman / Los Angeles…)

As showers sprinkled Southern California on Sunday, residents near burn areas spent the day fortifying their homes and waiting nervously as weather forecasters predicted a series of storms expected to pound the region with the heaviest downpour in several years.

The leading edge of the foul weather began dampening the area Sunday afternoon and evening, but rainfall totals were less than a quarter of an inch in most of Los Angeles County and about half of an inch in local mountains.

"It just kind of set the stage for what's coming," said Carl Erickson, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather.

After a brief respite this morning, gusting winds and a downpour are expected this afternoon and evening, with three inches of rain -- and perhaps considerably more -- drenching foothill areas. Deluges of an inch of rain or more per hour could occur in some areas, said National Weather Service spokesman Bill Hoffer.

Officials predicted dangerous surf conditions, coastal flooding and possible mudslides and flash floods in areas scorched by recent wildfires, in what forecasters said would be the area's wettest weather since early 2005.

As much as 20 inches of rain could drench some south-facing slopes over the course of the week. Up to eight inches could fall along the coasts and in the valleys.

In preparation for mudslides, Los Angeles County crews have handed out 30,000 sand bags and arranged 10,000 linear feet of concrete barriers in foothill communities projected to bear the brunt of the deluge, said Department of Public Works spokesman Bob Spencer. Several dozen homeowners in deep canyon areas have been warned to leave if the rains arrive as expected, and more widespread evacuations are possible, he said.

"We're hoping for the best and preparing for the worst," Spencer said.

Today's storm is forecast to drop several inches of rain on areas charred by the summer's Station fire in the Angeles National Forest. A weaker storm is expected Tuesday, and forecasters say a third storm -- the strongest of the three -- will wallop the region on Wednesday and Thursday. The threat of showers could linger through Friday.

In La CaƱada Flintridge, which sits beneath hillsides charred by the Station fire, residents tried to shore up their homes and gather belongings in case they had to leave.

Steve Brown, 52, positioned the last of about 600 sandbags to protect his home at the bottom of a steep 500-foot hill. In November, an unexpected downpour sent fire debris hurtling into his backyard.

"I know that we'll end up with a lot of mud in our backyard, but I'm hoping that everything we've done will help stop it from getting to the house," he said.

Early Sunday, the county closed roads in the Angeles National Forest to all but emergency vehicles. The U.S. Coast Guard also warned boaters to stay out of the water over the next week. Anyone who does venture out should carry a marine-band VHF radio in case of trouble, said Lt. j.g. Tyler Stutin.

"A lot of times, boaters think they can go out and use their cellphone if they get into trouble. That is just not the case," he said.

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