Winter Blast Blows Across Southern California

Wednesday, March 28th 2007, 7:44 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A quick wintry blast brought fierce winds and cold temperatures to normally mild Southern California, but did little to quench the parched region.

Tuesday's storm startled residents, who watched as clear morning skies quickly darkened and gusting winds ripped roofs off several buildings, capsized boats and downed power lines and trees.

``I've never seen weather like this,'' said Larry Prantner, manager of Cavi at the Big Oaks Lodge restaurant in the Santa Clarita community of Saugus. ``It's March and I'm wearing a coat and starting a fire at the fireplace.''

The storm was created by moisture and cool air sweeping through warmer, dry air, meteorologists at the National Weather Service said. Warmer temperatures were expected through the rest of the week.

While the weather system sprinkled snow and hail across mountain and high desert communities, it wasn't nearly enough to make a dent in the huge shortfall of rain so far this year.

``In most places, we got zero or trace amounts of rain,'' Bonnie Bartling, a National Weather Service specialist, told the Los Angeles Times. ``Even in the mountains, we didn't get a whole lot of rain. This was mostly a wind system.''

Los Angeles is facing its driest year on record. Only 2.47 inches of rain have fallen in downtown Los Angeles since July 1. In a normal year, more than 13 inches of rain would have fallen by now.

On Tuesday, winds tore off the roof of Orange County Fire Authority's aviation building in Fullerton and harbor patrol officers made numerous rescues involving capsized craft in Newport Bay and offshore.

A large section of roof laminate and asphalt tile landed on four cars and caused minor damages, but no injuries, said Orange County fire Capt. Stephen J. Miller. He said fire crews also responded to numerous reports of downed trees and power lines.

``It was pretty crazy out there. I was driving on the freeway and saw many dust storms,'' Miller said.

Winds gusting up to 40 mph caused a small powerboat and three outriggers to capsize, said Orange County sheriff's Sgt. David Ginther. He said members of the Newport Beach Harbor Patrol rescued a man whose 11-foot boat capsized about a mile off Laguna Beach.

In Newport Bay, 24 members of a University of California at Irvine rowing crew were thrown into the water when their boats flipped. Some students swam ashore while others were rescued from the frigid water, Ginther said.

Four electrical transmission towers blew down and a fifth was damaged in the eastern Los Angeles County city of Commerce, and a dozen power poles came down, too, said Southern California Edison spokesman Gil Alexander.

About 165,000 Southern California Edison customers had outages during the day, but only about 11,700 remained blacked out late Tuesday, the utility said. Another 20,000 Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers throughout the city also lost power, said spokeswoman Kim Hughes.