Winter storm brings heavy rain, rare snow to parts of California

Authorities warn residents that severe weather, including blizzards, could create dangerous driving conditions in US.

A winter storm has brought chilly conditions, rain and blizzard warnings to the western United States.

The National Weather Service warned on Friday that the “cold and dangerous winter storm” could persist through Saturday in California, with blizzard warnings in effect for mountain ranges across the state.

“This will be a busy weather day for #SoCal [Southern California] with plenty of heavy rain, snow, wind, & even waterspouts or small tornadoes,” the Los Angeles department of the National Weather Service said on Twitter. “Please be safe.”

As the winter storm ramps up in California, it is scaling down in other parts of the US, such as the Midwest and the Great Plains, where the storm knocked out power for more than 900,000 people, killed a firefighter and complicated travel over the past several days.

On Friday, nearly 300 flights around the US were cancelled and more than 900 were delayed, according to the website Major roads, such as Interstate 5, was closed south of the Oregon border.

“You don’t want to be on the road,” weather forecaster Belen De Leon told NBC4 in Los Angeles.

Flood watches and warnings were also in effect in some areas of California, and evacuation orders were issued for several areas that were already hard hit in December and January by a series of atmospheric rivers, which drenched California.

Those previous storms had doused the state in 121 trillion litres (32 trillion gallons) of water, causing evacuations, power outages and widespread flooding.

The latest storm and frigid temperatures have also prompted concern about the weather’s impact on vulnerable communities. California has the largest homeless population in the US, and many more people lack access to consistent shelter or housing able to withstand the elements.

“It was frigid. Your bones ache, and you can’t get warm,” Terry Stephens, who lives in a trailer with her son, told the Los Angeles Times. “I had three blankets on me last night, and I was still freezing. Nothing helped.”

Trucks drive in the snow
Trucks drive in the snow on San Marcos Pass, located 600 metres (2,200ft) above sea level, along Highway 154 in Santa Barbara County, California, on February 23, 2023 [Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP]

The prospect of snow and extreme cold is unusual in parts of California known for temperate weather, and the novelty has been met with surprise, amusement and warnings about snowy roads.

One local newspaper, the Santa Barbara Independent, started its weather coverage by acknowledging the unusual circumstances.

“Blizzards in Santa Barbara County? Yep,” its article read, echoing the astonishment felt by many residents.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies