LOS ANGELES — California was lashed Friday by heavy rains that the parched state so desperately needs, but the soaking came with traffic snarls, power outages and the threat of mudslides.
Even with rainfall exceeding six inches in some places by midday, the powerful Pacific storm did not put a major dent in a drought that is among the worst in recent California history.
The first waves of the storm drenched foothill communities east of Los Angeles that just weeks ago were menaced by a wildfire – and now faced the threat of mudslides. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for about 1,200 homes in the area. Small debris flows covered one street in Glendora, but no property damage occurred, police said.
Forecasters expected the storm to last through Saturday in California before trundling east into similarly rain-starved neighboring states. Phoenix was expecting its first noticeable precipitation in two months.
The threat of mudslides will last at least through Saturday night. Tornadoes and water spouts were possible as the next wave of the storm came ashore Friday.
Rainfall totals in parts of California were impressive, especially in areas that typically don’t receive much, but not nearly enough to offer long-term relief from a long-running drought.
Downtown Los Angeles received two inches before a midday reprieve, but remained about 12 inches below normal rainfall totals for the season.
“We need several large storms and we just don’t see that on the horizon. This is a rogue storm,” National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Boldt said. “We will dry out next week.”
But for this rain, the service said, this would have been the driest December through February on record in Los Angeles.
Rain also fell in the central coast counties, the San Francisco Bay region and the Central Valley. Winter storm warnings were in effect in the Sierra Nevada for heavy snowfall.
Farmer Ray Gene Veldhuis, who grows almonds, walnuts and pistachios and runs a 2,300-cow dairy in the Central Valley’s Merced County, welcomed the wet weather but knew it would not rescue California from drought.
“Hopefully, they keep coming,” Veldhuis said of the storms. “If not, we’ll deal with the hand we’re dealt.”
The storm brought familiar problems. Numerous traffic accidents occurred on slick or flooded roads across California, including one about 60 miles east of Los Angeles involving a big rig whose driver died after falling from a freeway overpass.
Two men and their dogs were rescued from the swift waters of the Los Angeles River. Hundreds of miles north in San Jose, firefighters also pulled a man from swollen Coyote Creek near a homeless encampment. He was treated for hypothermia.
Power outages hit about 24,000 customers, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Southern California Edison said.
In Glendora and Azusa, cities about 25 miles east of Los Angeles that sit beneath nearly 2,000 acres of steep mountain slopes stripped by fire in January, catch basins filled with a muddy soup of debris – though homes were spared. With the vegetation gone, little held the dirt and rock in place.
Weeks ago, firefighters stopped the flames 15 feet from Dana Waldusky’s back fence.
“This time there’s nothing you can do. You can’t stop water,” Waldusky said.
Meteorologists posted flood watches for many other areas denuded by fires over the past two years.
The storm was good news for other Californians who didn’t have to worry about mudslides.
Kite-surfer Chris Strong braved pelting rain to take advantage of strong winds that gave him about an hour of fun over the pounding surf in the Sunset Beach enclave of Huntington Beach.
“I don’t get to kite here in these conditions very often – only a handful of times – but you put them in the memory bank,” he said.
Surf schools in San Diego canceled lessons, and asked their customers to be patient.
“It’s unruly out there now but when the storm settles and it cleans up, there will be the best waves in the next few days,” said Rick Gehris of Surfari Surf School.