Significant Storm Starts Drenching Region; Winter Storm Warning and Flash Flood Watch issued

RIVERSIDE – A powerful Pacific storm brought moderate to heavy rain, strong winds, snow and a possibility of thunderstorms to Riverside County today.

The National Weather Service said the inclement weather will continue into much of the weekend, though the heaviest rainfall is expected this morning into this afternoon, with rainfall rates in excess of one inch an hour possible today.

A flash flood watch is in effect from 6 a.m. today to late Saturday night for the Riverside metropolitan area and local mountain areas, though the Coachella Valley could also see flooding due to last year’s massive Mountain Fire.

”The Mountain Fire in the San Jacinto Mountains is also a threat for debris flows down the eastern slopes of the mountains into a portion of Palm Springs,” the NWS said.

A winter storm warning for mountain areas above 6,500 feet is in effect until 3 a.m. Sunday. In issuing the warning, the weather service said 10 to 20 inches of snow accumulation is likely above 6,500 feet, with local amounts exceeding 4 feet above 7,500 to 8,000 feet.

”Significant amounts of snow are forecast that will make travel dangerous,” the NWS advisory said. ”Only travel in an emergency. If you must travel, keep an extra flashlight, food and water in your vehicle in case of an emergency.”

The agency also advised motorists in the mountains to carry chains and extra clothing.

Higher elevations, along with the Coachella Valley, also are expected to see sustained south to southwest winds of 25 to 35 miles per hour and widespread gusts up to 60 mph. Isolated gusts up to 75 mph in the most wind- prone areas are also likely, according to the weather service.

A high wind warning for the mountains and the Coachella Valley took effect at 1 a.m. and is expected to last until 6 a.m. Saturday.

A slightly less serious wind advisory is scheduled in the Riverside metropolitan area is in effect until 8 p.m. According to the weather service, the Inland Empire will likely see sustained south to southwest winds of 20 to 30 mph and gusts up to 40 mph.

SAN DIEGO – The leading edge of a strong Pacific storm doused the San Diego area today with moderate to heavy rainfall, setting the stage for a soggy and blustery weekend.

By early evening, the preliminary moisture totals from the unsettled atmospheric system ranged from a few hundredths of an inch toward the coast to over an inch in a few East County locales, according to the National Weather Service.

The cloudbursts played some predictable havoc on the county’s commuter routes. Between midnight and 4:30 p.m., the California Highway Patrol logged 242 accidents, as compared with the 50-75 crashes to which it generally responds during an entire day under clear skies.

Up to 3 inches of rainfall in coastal and valley areas, 3 to 5 inches in the mountains and up to an inch in the deserts will pose a strong threat of flooding and other road hazards through much of the weekend, meteorologists advised.

A flash-flood watch for coastal, valley and mountain areas was scheduled from midnight to Saturday afternoon, cautioning motorists against trying to ford inundated roadways, quite possibly including some in Mission Valley.

The weather service issued a high-wind warning for mountain and desert areas from 1 a.m. Friday to 10 p.m. Saturday due to the prospect of south- southwest winds of 25 to 40 mph and gusts of up to 65 mph.

The storm also is likely to generate large, rough surf and strong rip currents along local beaches. The NWS posted a beach-hazards statement, effective from late tonight to Sunday afternoon.

In preparation for the storm, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department announced it had a limited number of sandbags available to residents at fire stations in Ocean Beach, the Midway area, Pacific Beach, Kearny Mesa, San Ysidro, Rancho Bernardo, Scripps Ranch, Tierrasanta, Rancho Penasquitos, Santa Luz and Pacific Highlands.

The empty sacks — users are responsible for filling them, using beach sand if so desired — also are available from lifeguard stations in Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, La Jolla Shores and Pacific Beach. People can take up to 10 at a time.

Powerful Pacific storm expected to drop up to 5 inches

RIVERSIDE – A powerful Pacific storm is expected to pound Riverside County with heavy rain and strong winds starting late tonight.

The National Weather Service issued several advisories for the region, saying up to 3 inches of rainfall in the Inland Empire, 3 to 5 inches in the mountains and up to an inch in the Coachella Valley would pose a strong threat of flash flooding and other road hazards through much of the weekend.

A flash flood watch for the Inland Empire and mountain areas is scheduled from late tonight to Saturday afternoon.

”The greatest threat for flash flooding will be over mountains and over the recent burn areas where debris flows are possible,” an NWS advisory said.

Though the flashflood watch does not extend into the Coachella Valley, the weather service said debris from the Mountain Fire may drain into the area.

The weather service also issued a high wind watch for the Coachella Valley and mountain areas from late tonight to Saturday evening, saying sustained south to southwest winds of 25 to 35 mph and gusts to 60 mph are likely.

A slightly less-serious wind advisory is scheduled in the Riverside metropolitan area from 4 a.m. Friday to 1 p.m. Saturday. According to the weather service, the Inland Empire will likely see sustained south to southwest winds of 20 to 30 mph and gusts up to 50 mph.

”Gusty winds will make driving difficult, especially for motorists of high profile vehicles,” an NWS advisory said. ”Watch for broken tree limbs and other debris.”

For mountain areas above 6,000 feet, a winter storm watch for snow will be in effect from Friday morning to late Saturday. The NWS said 6 to 10 inches of snow accumulation is likely above 6,000 feet but local amounts of 2 to 3 feet could accumulate on higher peaks, mainly above 7,500 feet.

”Residents and travelers into higher elevations of the mountains should be prepared for winter weather conditions and possible road closures,” an NWS advisory said. ”Carry chains and take extra food and clothing.”

Riverside County Residents Prepare for Winter Rains

RIVERSIDE – Pacific storms expected to dump several inches of rain throughout the Inland Empire over the next several days prompted authorities today to advise residents in flood-prone areas and locations impacted by recent wildfires to take precautions.

”Residents, especially those in and below burned areas, should prepare their homes in advance of flooding,” according to the county fire department. ”The fire department encourages all residents to take advantage of this time, before these storms hit Riverside County.”

According to the National Weather Service, there’s a 60 percent chance of precipitation after 10 tonight, with showers likely tomorrow morning, turning to heavy rain by Thursday afternoon.

Thunderstorms are in the forecast Friday, along with downpours and high winds. Intense rainfall is expected to continue into Saturday, with precipitation tapering off by the evening hours and scattered showers Sunday, according to weather forecasters.

Brush fires last year near Idyllwild and Lake Elsinore scorched thousands of acres, leaving hillsides bare and potentially susceptible to mudslides, officials said.

The county fire department is making sand and sandbags available, free of charge, at the following stations:

— No. 53, Garner Valley, 59200 Morris Ranch Road;

— No. 11, Lakeland Village, 33020 Maiden Lane; and

— No. 63, Poppet Flats, 49575 Orchard Road.

The city of Riverside is also making sand and bags available to residents, who can pick them up at the city corporation yard, 8095 Lincoln St., or at fire station No. 6, 1077 Orange St., or station No. 7, 10191 Cypress Ave. City Councilman Mike Gardner reminded residents that storm supplies are also available at most hardware stores.

Palm Springs fire stations will have sand bags — but no sand — for residents in flood-prone areas. Stations are at 277 N. Indian Canyon Drive, 300 N. El Cielo Road, 590 E. Racquet Club Road and 1300 Laverne Way.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, snow levels are expected to drop to 6,000 feet by the weekend, resulting in appreciable accumulations that could turn higher elevations of the 676,666-acre San Bernardino National Forest into a ”winter wonderland.”

Agency spokesman John Miller emphasized the need for motorists to check on road conditions before trekking out to Big Bear, Idyllwild and other popular winter spots.

Miller said the USFS, Caltrans and CHP will be keeping a particularly close eye on state Route 243 in the Banning Pass, where a wildfire last August caused damage.

”The highway may be subject to closure if conditions warrant,” Miller said.

The USFS issued the following recommendations:

— avoid activity on ice-covered lakes and streams due to the likelihood of thin ice giving way;

— take extra care when walking on icy surfaces, such as foot paths, slopes and parking lots to prevent fall injuries;

— always bring extra safety items when making a trip to the forest, including flashlights, blankets, maps and batteries;

— have snow chains available to put on vehicle tires; and

— park in designated areas so as not to block potential ingress and egress routes used by emergency personnel.

According to the county fire department, anytime motorists encounter flooded roadways, they should immediately ”stop, turn the car around and take another route.”

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