LOS ANGELES (AP) — A winter storm brought California much-needed rain and even a rare tornado, but the breadth and severity of snowfall in much of the state caught drivers by surprise and left hundreds stranded on mountain highways.
A late barrage of snow forced the shutdown of a 35-mile stretch of Highway 58 between Los Angeles and Bakersfield.
The snow brought hundreds of vehicles to a stop and sent the patrol and road crews scrambling to the scene, where they were helping drivers to slowly exit near Tehachapi. No injuries were reported.
The highway remained closed early Wednesday and officials don't know when it will reopen.
"We've had no reports of people being stuck overnight. Between us and Caltrans, we've been patrolling all night," said Steve Dutcher, a public safety dispatcher for the California Highway Patrol.
A similar scene played out shortly about 300 miles to the north, where dozens of cars were either stuck in the snow or involved in accidents near the rural community of Sonora. About 50 to 75 vehicles became stranded or were in collisions on Highway 49 and nearby roadways when it started snowing heavily in the Sierra Nevada foothills, said CHP Lt. Scott Clamp.
"Travelers were just not prepared," Clamp said. There were a handful of minor injuries, but no major injuries, he said.
Interstate 5 in the Grapevine area was closed early Wednesday and the Cajon Pass on Interstate 15 was open despite sporadic snow.
The storm from the Gulf of Alaska brought the first significant rainfall to the region in several weeks, the National Weather Service said.
Periodic showers, including hail, hit the San Francisco Bay area in time for the morning commute, while new snow fell in the Sierra Nevada, where ski resorts around Lake Tahoe were expecting up to 8 inches.
Flurries were spotted high in the hills in Oakland and in neighboring Berkeley, said Rick Canepa, a weather service meteorologist in Monterey. The top of Mt. Hamilton near San Jose and the tips of Mt. Diablo in the East Bay also got a dusting.
In the Sacramento area, a tornado with wind speeds between 40 to 70 mph was spotted north of Red Bluff shortly after 1:30 p.m., according to the weather service. It caused little or no damage.
More rain was forecast for the San Francisco Bay area and for parts of Southern California. Authorities warned of more hazardous conditions for drivers on mountain and interior valley roads into early Wednesday, when the storm was expected to move east. Continued...