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Freezing weather in L.A. could drop snow levels to 1,500 feet overnight [Updated]

December 7, 2009 |  4:54 pm

The first of three rainstorms moved through Southern California on Monday, and residents now have to contend with extremely cold conditions that could drop the snow level down to 1,500 feet.

Temperatures could dip into the single digits overnight in mountain areas and into the 30 and 40s in the Los Angeles Basin.

That could mean a dusting of snow in lower mountain elevations as well as some Los Angeles-area foothill communities.

“With the outside temperature that chilly and all that moisture in the air,” Seto said, “give yourself time to warm up your car’s engine and clean the frost off your windshield. It’s going to be pretty cold.”

Another storm is expected to arrive Thursday, prompting more concerns about slides in wildfire-razed foothills. Tuesday and Wednesday should be relatively dry with a chance of scattered showers.

[Updated, 5:17 p.m.: Officials have reported very few problems with flooding so far. L.A. County Fire Capt. Mark Savage said the storm seems to have veered off enough to have packed a lesser punch than expected. “Things are looking really good. It’s not raining in La Cañada Flintridge where we are,” Savage said. “But it’s a little chilly here, that’s for sure.” L.A. firefighters this afternoon rescued a man trapped on the L.A. River near Los Feliz.]

Early today, the prospect of mudflows bearing down on homes above hillsides charred by the Station fire had county and city emergency services preparing for the worst.

Mandatory evacuations were issued in some canyon neighborhoods because of expected downpours, and workers cleaned out debris basins and installed concrete barriers in vulnerable areas.

Bill Patzert, a climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, said the rainfall would be welcome under normal conditions, as the region has been locked in five years of dry conditions.

But the historically massive Station fire has put a damper on any good feelings. “We’d be celebrating right now if it hadn’t been for the Station fire,” he said. “It really denuded the hillsides from Arroyo Seco to Big Tujunga, so people in those neighborhoods are on pins and needles.”

With good reason.

Though there are far more precautions in place now, including catchment basins that can slow the momentum of mud and debris flows, Southern California has a history of rains triggering deadly mudslides after large wildfires.

Two of the worst happened during the holidays. On New Year’s Day in 1934, heavy rains led to flooding and mudslides in La Crescenta and Montrose that demolished more than 140 homes and killed more than 40 people.

And on Christmas Day in 2003, flooding swept away and killed 14 people, including children, celebrating in the San Bernardino Mountains. Gary Stibal wasn’t going to take a chance as he feverishly packed his silver Buick with clothes and important files in front of his Normington Street home in La Cañada Flintridge.

“I’m out of here,” Stibal, 69, said as he closed the trunk of his car.

“The hills are doing well, but I just don’t know how long that will last.”

-- Hector Becerra and Gerrick D. Kennedy

Photo: A plow clears newly fallen snow from California 38 in the San Bernardino National Forest. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

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