Evacuations ordered as biggest storm in years moves into Southern California

The National Weather Service is warning that the storm hitting Southern California on Sunday could be the strongest since 2010, prompting at least one city to issue evacuation notices in advance of heavy rain, flooding and possible mudslides.

Light rain was falling across the region Sunday morning, with more intense rain expected as the day progresses. The heaviest rain was expected Sunday afternoon and evening.

The city of Santa Clarita issued notices at 6 p.m. Saturday for about 120 homes in the vicinity of last summer’s Sand fire. The affected area is bounded by Placerita Canyon to the south, Sand Canyon to the west and Iron Canyon to the north. Evacuations were also ordered in burn areas in Silverado Canyon in Orange County and parts of Santa Barbara County.

At-risk residents were being urged to evacuate no later than 10 p.m. Saturday night as debris flows could restrict access by first- responder agencies, according to a statement released by the city.

An evacuation center has been set up at Canyon High School, 19300 Nadal St. Animals may be taken to the Castaic Animal Shelter at 31044 Charlie Canyon Road.

Residents are also urged to visit the county’s storm season website at www.lacounty.gov/LARain for additional information.

Rain is expected to begin falling lightly over the Southland late Saturday, then pick up intensity during the Sunday predawn hours before transforming into a heavy storm from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, said meteorologist Carol Smith.

During the heaviest period of rain on Sunday, coastal areas are expected to see up to an inch of rain, the San Fernando Valley up to 1½ inches, the San Gabriel Mountains up to 2¼ inches, and downtown Los Angeles up to 1⅓ inches.   

“It looks like it’s shaping up to be the strongest storm of the season,” Smith said.

Flash flood watches will be in effect throughout the Southland.

The storm is also expected to hit the Sierra Nevada hard. The weather service warned of “crippling snow amounts on top of existing snow cover” and urged residents to stock up on food, water and firewood, and “essentially prepare for being stranded at home for multiple days.” Power outages are likely, and mature trees are expected to fall. It’s possible that residents could endure multiple-day power outages, failures of carports and decks, and avalanches.

As of Sunday morning, there was flooding reported in some areas including Santa Cruz County. Snow once again closed Interstate 80 in the Sierras.

The forecast is heightening concerns about mudslides and flooding across the state. Another powerful storm that hit California on Friday caused numerous road closures and mudslides in areas burned by recent fires, including a major incident near Santa Barbara that destroyed cabins and cars, and forced rescues.

The storm is expected to enter the region as early as late Saturday night and peak on Sunday, with thunderstorms possible and continuing into Monday.

The storm is expected to be unusually intense, driven by the jet stream.

Officials warned of dangerous driving conditions in the mountains, possibly affecting the Grapevine grade of the 5 Freeway in Kern County on Sunday night into Monday.

Rainfall could fall at rates of between 1 to 1.5 inches per hour, and forecasters expect to issue a flash flood watch.

Friday’s bad weather scuttled former President Obama’s travel plans. He and his family left Washington after Donald Trump’s inauguration and planned to land at Palm Springs International Airport. But after at least two aborted tries, that landing was scrapped due to poor weather conditions. His plane ended up landing at March Air Reserve Base near Riverside.

In the San Fernando Valley, firefighters rescued five homeless people in the Sepulveda Basin after their encampment was flooded. Mudflows also hit Duarte.

So far, California is on pace for its wettest year on record after six years of drought, according to the Department of Water Resources. Months of above-average rainfall have only accelerated in January, with three consecutive weeks of rain from the Sacramento Valley to the Los Angeles Basin with only days of clear skies in between.

The storms have built up the snowpack for the whole Sierra Nevada, with the southern third of the range at nearly 200% of average for this time of year. The state’s biggest reservoirs are brimming and more rain is on the way, forecasters say.

Officials also warned of high surf due to the storm and urged people to avoid going into the water. Wave swells could top 30 feet on the Central Coast and 15 feet in the L.A. area.

Meanwhile, an avalanche warning was issued to Southern California mountains above 7,000 feet.

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