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Climate and Environment

SoCal Storm Expected To Intensify Wednesday Night Into Thursday

A satellite image of storm clouds taking a straight shot at the California coastline.
Radar shows precipitation Wednesday morning over Southern California.
(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
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While some Southern California neighborhoods got doused with up to an inch and a half of rain throughout the day on Wednesday, lots of folks played peekaboo with the sun, as the latest winter storm made its way down from the Bay Area.

The fairly low key (for us) storm is expected to intensify into the night and peak into early Thursday. We'll see scattered showers throughout the day, but we should be all nice and dry by Friday.

The most concerning hazards are going to be isolated pockets of heavy rainfall, which could result in debris flows, and low elevation snow impacting mountain roads. Potential thunderstorms could also bring hail and lightning.

As for tornadoes?

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"There's a non-zero chance of a tornado or waterspouts off shore. This is always a threat for us during winter storms," said Todd Hall, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "We're sitting at less than a 2% chance of a tornado."

The concerning, heavy bursts of rain are most likely to occur late Wednesday into early Thursday.

As usually happens during storms with heavy rain, debris flows are of particular concern in recently burned areas. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works has said that minor-to-moderate flooding should be anticipated in La Tuna Canyon, Agua Dulce, Sunland-Tujunga, and a few other spots.

Consider avoiding mountain travel altogether, as snow levels could fall as low as 3,000 to 4,000 feet. As a result, icy conditions on major passes should be expected, including on Interstate 5 and State Routes 14, 2 and 33.

As of mid-morning Wednesday, the Grapevine is still open, while State Route 2 is closed from Mt. Wilson Road to Big Pines Highway.

What about the snow?

Six to 10 inches of snow could fall above 5,000 feet, though some mountain peaks could to see up to 18 inches.

There's a winter storm watch in effect for the area as whiteout conditions are a concern. Wind gusts could reach 45 miles per hour in some spots.

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The lower elevation snow at places like the Grapevine will mostly be a concern Thursday morning, which is when as much of an inch of snow could fall.

Last week's storm produced some notable damage including a pair of tornadoes, and a collapsed hillside in Pacific Palisades.

Driving in the rain

  • Roadway safety experts advised motorists to:

    • Check weather and road conditions all along your planned route
    • Slow down
    • Keep a wider-than-usual distance between your vehicle and the one in front
    • Don't drive through standing water — as little as 12 inches of rushing water can carry away most cars, and two feet can carry away SUVs and trucks.
    • Make sure tires are fully inflated
    • Check windshield wiper blades and replace if necessary

How to stay safe in high winds

Safety tips from Southern California Edison
    • Watch for traffic signals that may be out. Approach those intersections as four-way stops.
    • Make sure you have a battery-operated radio and flashlights. Check the batteries to make sure they are fresh. Use flashlights for lighting during a power outage; do not use candles because they may pose a significant fire hazard.
    • If you’re in a vehicle with a fallen power line on it, stay in the vehicle and remain calm until help arrives. It is OK to use your cellphone to call 911. If you must leave the vehicle, remember to exit away from downed power lines and exit by jumping from the vehicle and landing with both feet together. You must not touch the vehicle and the ground at the same time. Then proceed away from the vehicle by shuffling and not picking up your feet until you are several yards away. 
    • Water and electricity don’t mix. Water is an excellent conductor of electricity. Do not step in or enter any water that a downed power line may be touching.
    • Do not use any equipment inside that is designed for outdoor heating or cooking. Such equipment can emit carbon monoxide and other toxic gases.
    • If you use a generator, place it outdoors and plug individual appliances directly into it, using a heavy-duty extension cord. Connecting generators directly to household circuits creates “backfeed,” which is dangerous to repair crews.
    • Leave the doors of your refrigerator and freezer closed to keep food as fresh as possible. Place blocks of ice inside to help keep food cold. Check food carefully for signs of spoilage. 
    • Check on your neighbors to make sure everyone is safe.

Tips to keep your heating bills down

  • State law requires residential units to have heating systems that can keep indoor temperatures at a minimum of 70 degrees. That means every dwelling unit and guest room offered for rent or lease should offer heating equipment, usually central air conditioning (A/C) or a wall heater. — Caitlin Hernández

  • Use heat smartly to save money: Cranking things like the A/C and wall heaters can be expensive. If money is tight, be judicious about how and when you use your utilities. For example, only use heaters at night or only set the thermostat to around 70 degrees.

  • Open and close those vents: If you have central A/C, look at where the vents are around your home. Are any open in places where you don’t stay long? Practice opening and closing those so warm air only goes where you need it (most vents should have a small toggle lever). Humidifiers can also help you warm things up — and it’s useful to add moisture into our dry air.

  • Adjust your wall heaters: If you have a wall heater, you can change the output by adjusting the knob (usually at the bottom). Since wall heaters can only warm the areas where they’re placed, it’s essential to close doors to rooms you won’t be in so hot air doesn’t get wasted.

  • Turn on your ceiling fan (really): If you have a ceiling fan, try turning it on. This sounds counterintuitive, but there’s science behind it. The direction a fan turns can push air in different directions, and since hot air floats up, you’ll want to move that around. Your fan should spin clockwise to create an updraft to circulate. Not all fans will have this option, though.

Additional storm resources

What questions do you have about the weather we're experiencing?
A massive winter storm is hitting Southern California. We're here to answer your questions.

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