Mudslides, flooded freeways and dangerous driving conditions plagued the Southland Thursday thanks to a second straight day of rain, prompting road closures, mandatory evacuation orders in Orange County and even a skidding airplane in Burbank.
Although stronger than forecasters had anticipated, Thursday’s rain never prompted any evacuation orders in the Malibu area, although some hillsides scorched in the recent Woolsey Fire sent mud and rocks cascading onto some mountain roads.
The biggest mudslide in the area occurred during the morning commute, inundating a stretch of Pacific Coast Highway near Leo Carrillo State Beach. All lanes were blocked in both directions for several hours, but the road was cleared and reopened by about midday.
In Orange County, voluntary evacuation orders were issued Thursday morning for select neighborhoods near the Holy Fire burn area, affecting the Trabuco Creek, Rose Canyon and Mystic Oaks/El Cariso areas. By early afternoon, however, the evacuation order was elevated to mandatory for Trabuco Creek, and residents in Rose Canyon were asked to shelter in place due to road closures at Trabuco Canyon Road at Rose Canyon and Plano Trabuco Road, according to Carrie Braun of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
With showers expected to linger into the night, sheriff’s officials said the evacuation orders will remain in place overnight.
The unexpected force of the storm was most evident in the northern reaches of Los Angeles County, where National Weather Service forecasters has initially said they didn’t expect extensive snowfall. But by late morning, snow blanketed the area and forced a closure of the 5 Freeway through the Grapevine in both directions. Hundreds of vehicles were stranded on the closed highway, with no means of escaped from the jammed roadway.
The roadway was cleared and reopened by mid-afternoon.
According to the NWS, a rainfall record for a Dec. 6 was set in downtown Los Angeles, with 1.9 inches falling. The previous record for the date was 1.01 inches in 1997.
In Santa Clarita, sheriff’s deputies and county firefighters helped residents evacuate two homes that were affected by flooding around 9:30 a.m. in the 17800 block of Sierra Highway. The downpour also prompted a temporary closure of Sierra Highway in the area, but the water had subsided by late morning and lanes were reopened.
In Sun Valley, rainwater flooded a stretch of the Golden State (5) Freeway. All southbound lanes of the freeway were closed at Sheldon Street, and the Lankershim Boulevard, Sunland and Penrose onramps were shut down until the water receded.
At Hollywood Burbank Airport, a Southwest Airlines jet from Oakland skidded off the slick runway while landing, forcing a temporary ground-stop of all flights heading to the airport. No injuries were reported, but passengers reported a harrowing flight.
“I knew that it was raining, but I was just working as we landed,” one passenger told ABC7. “We hit pretty hard, and you could see a lot of water coming up. I noticed the plane was hydroplaning — went kind of diagonal to almost sideways. Mud started hitting the windows very heavily to where you couldn’t see out of it.”
Orange County was hit with a strong rain cell late Thursday morning and into the afternoon, prompting a wave of flooding reports. Garden Grove police shut down northbound Magnolia Street between Imperial and Garden Grove Boulevard due to flooding. Rain water also inundated the intersection of Garden Grove Boulevard and Fairview.
Flooding was also reported off the 55 Freeway at Fourth Street in Tustin, with several vehicles trapped. Flash flooding was also reported in portions of Orange and at Balboa Island in Newport Beach.
Many drivers in Orange County were found themselves stuck in flooded streets, said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Tony Bommarito.
“We’ve got calls all over the place with flooding trapping people in cars, but no injuries reported,” he said Thursday afternoon. “We have multiple cars stalling in intersections. We’re telling people if you can stay indoors then stay indoors and wait till the rain subsides. Right now the drains can’t keep up. Public works is doing their best to clear the drains right now, but there’s been too much water coming down.”
A flash flood warning was briefly in effect for east-central Orange County, but while it was allowed to expire at 4 p.m., forecasters warned that “significant” runoff was still possible into early evening, with showers potentially dropping as much as one-fifth of an inch of rain per hour.
A less serious flood advisory was in effect until early afternoon in Los Angeles County, later replaced by an urban and small stream flood advisory, but that too was allowed to expire as rains tapered off.
The rain made for a challenging morning commute, as was the case Wednesday, when, according to the California Highway Patrol, there were 119 accidents reported on Los Angeles County freeways between 5 and 10 a.m., compared to 93 under dry conditions a week earlier. Forecasters said motorists must be particularly vigilant on canyon roads.
Forecasters noted that showers were expected to continue throughout the evening, but the precipitation will likely taper off by Friday morning.
“Going forward, this system will exit the area tonight and leave dry and warmer weather along with light offshore flow through the weekend,” according to the National Weather Service. “By (the weekend), daytime temps will top out in the lower 70s many areas, 2 to 4 degrees above normal. The only thing that might interfere with the warm-up on Sunday might be a rather thick area of high clouds that will be coming through as a trough to the north pulls up high-level moisture from the southwest.”
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