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Icy conditions close Grapevine as Southland braces for cold and snow

December 7, 2009 |  6:02 pm

The California Highway Patrol closed Interstate 5 in both directions tonight as the first of three rainstorms moved through and Southern California braced for freezing temperatures.

The Grapevine, the main route between Northern and Southern California, was closed shortly after 5 p.m. because of icy conditions, and it's unclear when it will reopen.

Forecasters said the snow level could drop to 1,500 feet and temperatures could dip into the single digits overnight in mountain areas and into the 30s 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,” said weather specialist Stuart Seto, “give yourself time to warm up your car’s engine and clean the frost off your windshield. It’s going to be pretty cold.”

Mandatory evacuations for a few homes near the Station fire burn area were lifted this evening.

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.

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.”

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.”

-- Hector Becerra and Gerrick D. Kennedy