A powerful winter storm that lashed California with heavy rain and frigid temperatures shifted its focus Saturday to wind and heavy snow, although forecasters said the risk of life-threatening flash floods in the Los Angeles area has passed.
The National Weather Service said blizzard conditions were expected at higher elevations, with wind gusts of up to 100 mph (160 kph) and several feet of snow in isolated areas.
“There’s already been reports of 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 centimeters) across some of the higher peaks, and we’re looking at an additional foot, maybe two, of additional snowfall through the rest of the day,” said meteorologist Zach Taylor.
Overnight lows fell below freezing in some areas while downtown San Francisco approached record cold temperatures. A drop to 38 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) would have been the coldest since 2009, but it didn’t get colder than 41 Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius), according to the National Weather Service.
The weather service had warned Friday of possible overnight flash floods, landslides and mudslides in Los Angeles County near creeks, streams, urban areas, highways and areas that were burned by wildfires. The threat zone included downtown L.A., Hollywood, Beverly Hills and many suburbs.
Flash flooding did hit nearby Ventura County early Saturday, where up to 7 inches (18 centimeters) of rain fell, but by 6 a.m. Saturday, the weather service said the heavy rain in both counties had ended and that flooding was no longer expected to pose a threat.
Meanwhile, people farther east were struggling to deal with the fallout from storms earlier this week.
More than 418,000 homes and businesses in Michigan were still without power Saturday morning, two days after one of the worst ice storms in decades caused widespread power outages by knocking down some 3,000 ice-coated power lines.
Promises of power restoration by Sunday, when low temperatures were expected to climb back above zero (minus 18 Celsius), were little consolation.
“That’s four days without power in such weather,” said Apurva Gokhale, of Walled Lake, Michigan. “It’s unthinkable.”
Back in California, the Weather Prediction Center of the National Weather Service forecast heavy snow over the Cascade Mountains and the Sierra Nevada into the weekend.
California’s wine country wasn’t spared from the rare brew of wind and snow. Mark Neal told KPIX-TV that he woke up Friday morning to see a foot (30.4 centimeters) of snow — more than he had seen in more than 40 years — and dozens of his oak trees snapped in half.
“It’s pretty much a battleground if you look at it. Some of them are over 200 years old,” he said. Luckily, the vines were safely dormant.
The low-pressure system was expected to bring widespread rain and snow in southern Nevada by Saturday afternoon and across northwest Arizona Saturday night and Sunday morning, the National Weather Service office in Las Vegas said.
An avalanche warning was issued for the Sierra Nevada backcountry around Lake Tahoe, which straddles the California-Nevada border. Nearly 2 feet (61 cm) of new snow had fallen by Friday and up to another 5 feet (1.5 meters) was expected when another storm moves in with the potential for gale-force winds and high-intensity flurries Sunday, the weather service said.
In Arizona, the heaviest snow was expected late Saturday through midday Sunday, with up to a foot of new snow possible in Flagstaff, forecasters said.
Weekend snow also was forecast for parts of the upper Midwest to the Northeast, with pockets of freezing rain over some areas of the central Appalachians. The storm was expected to reach the central high Plains by Sunday evening.
Yet the cold weather blasting the North and West avoided the southern states, leading to wild temperatures differences. The high temperature for the U.S. on Friday was 93 degrees Fahrenheit (34 degrees Celsius) at Falcon Lake, Texas, while the low was minus-35 degrees Fahrenheit (1.7 Celsius) near Huntley, Montana.
The wintry blasts led to hundreds of cancelled flights at airports around the country and temporarily shut down miles of major highways Friday in California, Oregon and Nevada.
Harsh weather prompted Los Angeles County to keep its emergency shelters open into March as wind chill was expected to drop weekend temperatures below freezing in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys. The county’s large homeless population was at special risk.
At least three people have died in the coast-to-coast storms. A Michigan firefighter died Wednesday after coming in contact with a downed power line, while in Rochester, Minnesota, a pedestrian died after being hit by a city-operated snowplow. Authorities in Portland, Oregon, said a person died of hypothermia.
Much of Portland was shut down with icy roads not expected to thaw until Saturday after the city’s second-heaviest snowfall on record this week: nearly 11 inches (28 centimeters).
Tim Varner sat huddled with blankets in a Portland storefront doorway shielding him from some of the wind, ice and snow. Local officials opened six overnight shelters but the 57-year-old, who has been homeless for two decades, said it was too hard to push a shopping cart containing his belongings to reach one.
“It’s impossible,” he said. “The snow gets built up on the wheels of your cart and then you find slippery spots and can’t get no traction. So you’re stuck.”
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