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Climate and Environment

Dire Warnings Of Blizzard, Other Dangerous Conditions As Major Storm Moves Into SoCal

A satellite view of the earth shows clouds moving south along the west coast of the U.S.
A view of the West Coast shows the weather pattern Tuesday as Southern California braces for a big winter storm.
(Courtesy NOAA)
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We are bracing for an exceptionally cold and windy storm that could drop snow in places we don't normally see.

Southern Californians already spent the night listening to gusty winds knock around trees and loose items — now we're hearing a blizzard warning will be in effect for the mountains from Friday afternoon through Saturday.

So much snow is forecast that the National Weather Service is warning travelers to stay away from the mountains this weekend.

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A map of Southern California shows large portions of mountainous areas covered in red to purple indications snowfall of up to 6 feet.
Significant snow is forecast this weekend in Southern California's mountains.
(Courtesy NWS San Diego via @US_Stormwatch)

"This is a very significant storm ... we have not seen this kind of snow production from a storm since 1989," said Andrew Roarke, a meteorologist with the weather service. "So it's a very, very big storm. Some of the ski resort levels, up at Big Bear in those areas, they're gonna look at 5 feet of snow and maybe even to up to 7 feet of snow."

Eric Sund, the city manager of Big Bear, warned of the possibility of power outages. He said city employees are gearing up for the storm and that the local power utility, Bear Valley Electric Service, will have all hands on deck.

"They're calling all of their contractors, they're maintaining critical staffing levels so that everybody is prepared," he said. "Much like us — we're making sure all our vehicles and equipment are filled up with gas."

The National Weather Service has been warning for days that this may be the coldest storm the region has seen in years. That cold air mass is heading in from British Columbia and it could mean we see a sprinkling of snow as low as 1,000 feet in places like the Antelope Valley, Santa Clarita, and even Altadena.

The weather service warns conditions in California's waters will be outright dangerous, with waves along L.A. and Ventura counties reaching up to 16 feet high.

What about today?

Wednesday (Feb. 22) we're expecting mild showers from the coast to the valleys, with rainfall rates up to 3 inches and snow levels dropping to 2,500 feet — low enough to affect major mountain passes like the Grapevine on Interstate 5 north of L.A.

The warnings are serious

Among the cautions from meteorologists:

  • The strongest winds — 55 mph to 75 mph in the mountains and foothills and 35 mph to 55 mph on the coast and valleys — were expected overnight last night into today (Wednesday, Feb. 22).
  • Whiteout and blizzard conditions are possible in the mountains, potentially limiting visibility. There's also an increased risk of avalanche.
  • Beachgoers should beware of oversized waves and strong rip tides.
  • In addition, sailors have been told to stay in port or risk capsizing.
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Tips from fire officials

The L.A. Fire Department shared tips with us on everything from good weather alert apps to download to what you can do to get your house ready — and where you can pick up sandbags.

Read more: A Storm Is Coming. LA Fire Officials Have These Tips On Getting Ready Now

What's next

The storm should peak between Friday and Saturday, before wrapping up by Sunday. But Mother Nature isn't done yet — there’s another storm anticipated mid-next week.

Larry Mantle, host of LAist 89.3's talk show AirTalk, discussed the coming conditions on Wednesday's program. His guests included a meteorologist, a climate scientist, and a Big Bear resort manager. Listen to their conversation:

Expect road delays and poor driving conditions

A note to drivers on our roads

  • Check your tire treads and pressure before hitting rain-slicked roads.
  • Know that middays can be the most dangerous.
  • Plan ahead, check road conditions, and give yourself plenty of time.
  • Turn on your headlights.
  • Slow down!
  • If you do end up skidding, don't panic.
  • Don't drive through standing water.
  • Pay attention, duh.

We have more detailed guidance: Your Guide To Driving Safely In The Rain In LA (And Really Anywhere).

Where to find winter shelters in L.A.

[View the document here if it doesn't load above for you: L.A. County winter shelters]

Tips on staying warm

  • 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.

Staying safe when winds are high

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.

Staying safe in the rain

How we're covering this

Jacob Margolis, who covers science, is reporting on weather conditions, including wind chill. Gillian Morán Pérez has been talking to the NWS. LAist Associate Editor Mike Roe is updating this digital story and adding additional information and context. Additional LAist staff, including Mike Flores, Susanne Whatley, and others are contributing.

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.

Updated February 21, 2023 at 5:44 PM PST
New about a blizzard warning has been added to this report.
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