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Tornado warning issued for parts of L.A. as big storm moves in [Updated]

January 19, 2010 | 12:56 pm
The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for the South Los Angeles, Long Beach and Whittier areas as a powerful new storm moves ashore.

The warning is expected to be in place for at least 45 minutes.

Radar shows heavy rain falling in Long Beach, with the storm moving in at 35 mph to the northeast. There were also reports of thunder and lightning across the region.

Forecasters said the storm was capable of producing a tornado, but there was no evidence at this time that any tornadoes have developed on land.

[Updated at 1:03 p.m.: The tornado warning was extended to Orange County. In Seal Beach, officials were urging people to get off the beach. In San Pedro, the Los Angeles Fire Department reported major street flooding in areas near the harbor and ocean.

In East Long Beach, flood waters rose above some streets and were filling the grass areas in front of some homes. There were reports of power outages, though exactly how widespread they were is not clear.

The Orange County Sheriff's Department is checking a report that a car driving on Pacific Coast Highway might have been damaged by the storm, but officials have not confirmed this.

Huntington Beach lifeguards said no waterspouts -- or offshore tornadoes -- have been spotted. The beaches were mostly empty while waves surged, lightning struck and wind reached gusts of 52 miles per hour, said Huntington Beach Marine Safety Lt. Mike Beuerlein.

Newport Beach was seeing wind gusts of over 72 miles per hour and has closed jetties due to high surf, but has seen no tornadoes or waterspouts, said Jennifer Schulz of the Newport Beach Fire Dept.]

Piers along the Southern California coast were being closed today as huge waves surged onto beaches and harbors with a rainstorm that is expected to bring wind, thunder and lightning.

Ventura police closed the city's nearly 2,000-foot wooden pier this morning as a precaution; no damage was reported. But huge waves crashed near beachfront homes. "We're expecting some pretty big surf," said Sgt. Jack Richards.

Lifeguards also closed the Hermosa Beach Pier and were in the process of closing the Manhattan Beach pier, according to Los Angeles County lifeguards.

The National Weather Service issued an urban and small stream flood advisory for Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

A high surf advisory is in effect through Friday and the National Weather Service has issued a coastal flood watch starting tonight through late Wednesday, saying very large surf combined with strong wind is expected to push water into low-lying areas during high tide.

The largest waves will appear Wednesday and Thursday, when breakers could reach as high as 25 feet.

"The surf is very large," Capt. Mike Patterson of the Los Angeles County Fire Department's Lifeguard Division said while looking at 15-foot waves at the Hermosa Beach pier, where gates were locked this morning. "It's another facet of the weather."

A second in a series of four storms is sweeping across Southern California today, prompting power outages and fears of mud flows in hillsides stripped of vegetation because of recent wildfires.

Rain should turn into heavy showers with thunder, lightning and gusty winds by this afternoon and evening, dumping between ¾ and 1 ½ inches, according to forecasters. The storm could bring hail and weak, isolated tornadoes inland and off the coast.

"It's a fast mover with gusty winds behind it, so it should be out of the area before midnight," said Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. Authorities are urging caution during the afternoon commute, when the brunt of today's storm is expected to hit. They are also warning people to stay inside during the lightning and thunder.

"If you hear it roar, go indoors," Seto said.

-- Paloma Esquivel in Orange County, Cathleen Decker and Ruben Vives in Long Beach, Andrew Blankstein and Tony Barboza

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