A storm front Wednesday that’s been moving down the coast is expected to dump up to 4 inches of rain in the Santa Clarita Valley and more at higher altitudes by early Friday morning, according to weather experts.
The downpour prompted a rollout of resources throughout the state, according to Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, during a morning news conference hosted by the state’s Office of Emergency Services.
Caltrans Director Tony Tavares announced the agency would be closing roads “proactively” in areas where the rains were especially strong and encouraged travelers to postpone nonvital trips through these areas, as well to check the QuickMap app for any closures before traveling.
“We have this atmospheric river storm that’s starting to turn up north right now, and it’s going to come down south to our area … into Thursday,” Kristen Stewart, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said Wednesday, adding the storm is expected to move out Friday morning.
“We have this really strong low-pressure system that’s just spinning off the Northern California coast right now and it’s trailing a bunch of moisture from Hawaii,” she said, noting the rain levels at higher altitudes could be as much as 4 to 8 inches. “It’s pretty much a firehose of water.”
Los Angeles County Public Health officials issued a cold-weather alert for Saturday, when the low in the early-morning hours is expected to be in the upper-30s.
“Children, the elderly and people with disabilities or special medical needs are especially vulnerable during cold weather. Extra precaution should be taken to ensure they don’t get too cold when they are outside,” said Muntu Davis, Los Angeles County health officer. “There are places where people can go to stay warm, such as shelters or other public facilities. We also want to remind people not to use stoves, barbecues or ovens to heat their homes due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.”
The alert encourages warm clothing and for pet owners to bring their animals inside, especially overnight.
“Friday and Saturday the highs will be around 60,” Stewart said, with the potential for more rain to return late Sunday or early Monday.
“It looks like another storm is on tap,” she said. “It has the potential to be as strong as this one but we’re still working through the details.”
Snow is still only expected around 7,500 feet, she added, above most of what is considered “resort level,” except for Mountain High in the San Gabriel Mountains, which has peaks of around 7,800 feet.
County officials are monitoring road conditions, particularly in rural areas more susceptible to flooding, such as recent burn areas, which already have seen impacts in the northern parts of the Santa Clarita Valley, said Kerjon Lee, spokesman for L.A. County Public Works.
Lake Hughes Road, part of which was in the Lake Fire burn area, has been closed from Dry Gulch Road to Pine Canyon Road since Dec. 31. The county’s website for road closures, pw.lacounty.gov/roadclosures, did not have an estimated reopen date as of Wednesday morning. (The Lake Fire burned more than 31,000 acres in the Lake Hughes Road area and parts west in fall 2020.)
“Lake Hughes, just by virtue of it being a rural area, is subject to mud and debris flow,” Lee said, “and certainly that’s aligned with the recent Lake Fire. For storms like the upcoming storm, we have crews out and really monitoring that location, and basically clearing the mud and debris flow as quickly as possible …. There’s really not a significant amount we can do other than clearing after the slide, and then of course we’re notifying residents of the area to steer clear of that location.”
Public Works was trying to be as proactive as possible and asking residents to use the county’s toll-free number to report any issues they see in the roadway.
“One of the things with both of those road closures, it makes all of the drainage structures really mucked up,” said Steven Frasher, public information officer for LA County Public Works, referring to Lake Hughes Road and another on Pine Canyon Road that’s been in place for months. “We’ve got kind of an all-hands-on-deck response out there to clear the drains to make sure as many of them work as well as they can.”
City officials noted Wednesday morning that there were no road closures or significant damage reported.
“That’s something that we’re always monitoring in the rural mountains and the burn areas for any land flow and mud that have historically happened,” said Kevin Strauss, communications specialist for the city of Santa Clarita. “That’s not something that has shown as an issue but it’s something the streets team and the city will shore up as needed.”
During the OES’ Wednesday morning news conference, Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources, noted the weather emergency was caused in part because the atmospheric river that’s causing the most recent storm is the state’s third in 10 days, following several years of “extreme drought.”
The first two “rivers,” which took place Dec. 27 and then over New Year’s, Nemeth said, were a 3 on a scale of 0 to 5, and this current one is also a level 3. However, with each subsequent storm, it takes less and less to impact the landscape as the ground becomes saturated, making it easier for mud and debris flows to create problems.
For more information or to report a concern within city limits for Santa Clarita, visit readyforrain.santa-clarita.com. L.A. County Public Works has a 24-hour hotline to report any road problems, 1-800-675-4357. To check on potential road closures online, visit quickmap.dot.ca.gov. Anyone in need of a sandbag can pick one up from one of the locations listed at the following website: pw.lacounty.gov/dsg/sandbags. (Proof of residency in the city where the sandbag is being picked up is required.)