One dead and thousands without electricity as El Nino storm hits California

A woman was reported dead by firefighter officials on Sunday as storm-force winds and weather lashed southern California. The woman was driving through Pacific Beach, San Diego, when a falling tree struck her car and three others parked nearby. Downed power lines cut electricity to thousands of homes in the Los Angeles area, with flights from Los Angeles International Airport also affected.

Wind speeds reached 110mph near Whitaker Peak, near Castaic, with gusts in San Diego and the Los Angeles beaches reaching some 50-65mph. On Monday utility companies worked to restore power to 40,000 homes in the East Hollywood area.

Weather forecasters warned about the possibility of mud slides in areas already affected by fire damage, and where heavy ‘flash’ rainfall was predicted. National Weather Service meteorologist Rich Thompson told reporters the storm was expected to be as strong and potentially damaging as the one which struck the same area in early January. Storms from the 15th of that month caused heavy rain and high mountain snowfall.

Along the coast the seas have seen significant swell, and warnings were issued by the Weather Service on Monday for vessels to stay firmly in port. In the mountains, though, the weather system has brought good snow to resorts in the Big Bear area, with 9-13 inches expected. It’s good news for resort owners and winter sports enthusiasts at this time of the season.

“People are definitely excited to come up here and take advantage of the awesome conditions,” reported Clayton Shoemaker, director of marketing at Big Bear Mountain Resorts.

On the flipside, in the north icy conditions and snowfall caused delays and blockages along Interstate 80 near Truckee. 29 vehicles were involved in a traffic pile-up and the route was closed down for 2 hours amidst snowy conditions.

Stanford climatologist Daniel Swain pointed to the unusual weather patterns affecting the region of late. “In contrast to typical storms that develop far from California, this one developed unusually close, just 500 miles west of Santa Barbara… A bunch of different ingredients are coming together for a pretty impressive event.”