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More rain to pummel Southern California; saturation levels monitored in burn areas

December 20, 2010 |  9:08 am

Southern California reservoirs and rivers are expected to come through the next round of heavy rainfall with little threat of flooding, a National Weather Service meteorologist said Monday, but that could change if storms continue to line up off the coast.

Downtown Los Angeles has received 4.35 inches of rain since storms moved into the area Thursday, said meteorologist Jamie Meier. The foothill communities near the Station fire burn area have received a little more than 6 inches of rain, while the San Gabriel Mountains have received up to 10 inches.

Pacific Coast Highway was closed in both directions Monday morning as workers removed large boulders and rocks that slid onto the roadway overnight near the Ventura County-L.A. County line, according to the California Highway Patrol. It was later reopened.

Otherwise, there was relatively little damage over the wet weekend.

A northern cold front is expected to move into the Los Angeles basin Monday afternoon, mashing up with subtropical moisture that has been sitting off the Pacific coast for several days, Meier said. Periods of intense rainfall through Wednesday will bring another 5 inches to coastal plains and valleys and up to 10 inches in the mountains, she said.

Despite the heavy rain, rivers are not expected to flood. Ground saturation is climbing, but it is still far below the 15 inches or so needed to trigger major mudslides, Meier said.

"We've had a relatively dry five years,'' she said. "The majority of debris flows we've seen in the past few years have been the result of isolated thunderstorm activity."

She cautioned that burn areas, such as La-Cañada Flintridge and Tujunga, will need to keep a closer eye on flooding because the ground is unable to hold as much water as other areas. Neighborhoods have been sandbagging threatened streets and homes for days.

The cold front sweeping down from Washington state will cause temperatures to drop a few degrees, bringing snow levels to 6,000 feet from 9,000. Forecasters say the Grapevine on Interstate 5 should not experience any flurries as a result of Monday's storm.

Kern County declared a state of emergency Monday in anticipation of more heavy rainfall. Showers are expected to intensify Monday night and continue throughout Tuesday before tapering off Wednesday.

Kern County has not experienced any major damage yet, but officials said they wanted to be ready should this week's storms prove destructive.


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-- Catherine Saillant

Photo: Fallen rocks along several miles of Pacific Coast Highway on Monday have prompted officials to close the road from 1.1 miles north of the Los Angeles/Ventura counties line to 4.4 miles south of Oxnard. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times