By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. Feb 28 A large winter storm
brought much-needed relief to parched California on Friday,
boosting its reservoirs and dropping snow on the Sierra Nevada
mountains, but the precipitation will not be enough to counter
years of drought, officials said.
California is in its third year of a drought that may break
all records in the most populous U.S. state, where lawmakers on
Friday were expected to send a series of relief proposals to
Governor Jerry Brown for his signature. President Barack Obama
has also pledged millions of dollars in aid.
"Despite these recent storms, it would still have to rain
every other day until around May to reach average precipitation
totals, and even then we would still be in a drought due to the
last two dry years," said Richard Stapler, spokesman for the
California Natural Resources Agency.
Brown declared a drought emergency last month and has called
on state officials to prepare for water shortages and develop
solutions for potentially long-term dry weather.
Officials have said that California farmers facing drastic
cutbacks in irrigation water are expected to idle half a million
acres of cropland this year in a record production loss that
could cause billions of dollars in economic damage.
The National Weather Service predicted moderate to heavy
rain in Southern and Central California on Friday, slowing by
Saturday afternoon. The Service said Oxnard, a coastal city just
north of Los Angeles, had the highest precipitation in all of
the United States on Friday at 1.99 inches (5 cm) by 2:45 p.m.
Officials warned residents about possible mudslides in
areas where the summer's wildfires left hillsides bare and
unprotected by tree roots and bushes.
While the wet weather was welcome, rain and high winds
caused road closures and power outages in Southern California
and brought enough snow that tire chains were required for
driving on mountain roads near the Nevada border.
In Los Angeles, 14,000 customers were without power by
mid-morning. People were soaked as high winds turned umbrellas
inside out and drove the rain nearly sideways as they waited for
buses and light rail trains.
Near Malibu, crews worked to clear debris from the Pacific
Coast Highway north of the affluent seaside city after rock
slides prompted officials to close a 10-mile (16-km) stretch of
the scenic road.
Patrick Chandler, a spokesman for the California Department
of Transportation, said a large wildfire in the area last year
had caused the hillsides to be less stable.
"A lot of times, when you have rain in this area, especially
with the drought, you're going to have a lot of loose rocks
coming down," Chandler said.
Later Friday, the agency closed the Angeles Crest Highway in
the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles after another
rockslide made the road impassable.
By noon, there had been 158 vehicle crashes in the Los
Angeles area, 112 more than the previous Friday, according to
the California Highway Patrol.
Firefighters lowered themselves on ropes to pull a man out
of the Los Angeles River, a treacherous culvert with concrete
sides that rushes quickly to the sea when it rains. The man was
taken to a nearby hospital, but his condition had not been
released by mid-afternoon on Friday.
The Accu Weather service reported that more than an inch of
rain had fallen on Southern California since the storm moved in
on Thursday night, and that two neighborhoods in the foothills
of the San Gabriel mountains had been evacuated as a precaution
in case the wet weather prompted mudslides.
Air traffic was also affected at Los Angeles International
Airport, where 19 incoming and outgoing flights were canceled on
Friday morning, officials said.
In northern California, about 13,000 customers lost power in
the San Francisco Bay Area and the wine-making Sonoma County,
said Jason King, a spokesman for the Pacific Gas & Electric
Although many of those households and businesses had their
power restored by early afternoon, the company expected
additional outages to occur on Friday night as the rainy and
windy weather continued, King said.