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Rain creates traffic jams on Southern California roads [Updated]

December 7, 2009 |  8:14 am

Rain that began shortly after midnight has commuters taking their umbrellas to work and is creating nasty road conditions for the morning drive.

The downpour in Los Angeles County is expected to continue through the day, and the heaviest rains are expected to occur mid-afternoon or early evening. Snow is already falling at higher elevations near the Grapevine on Interstate 5, weather officials said.

“When all is said and done we’re expecting about half an inch to an inch of rain, with two to three inches of rain possible in the foothill and mountain areas,” said meteorologist Jamie Meier of the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

California Highway Patrol officials said they have responded to a high number of collisions on Los Angeles County freeways since the storm began.

“We’ve responded to three times as many collisions as usual,” said CHP Officer Francisco Villalobos. “A lot are happening on the on and off ramps. People are driving way too fast on the wet roads.”

Villalobos said authorities responded to 24 collisions between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. alone, a leap from the eight collisions they responded to during that same time period last week.

[Updated at 9:17 a.m.: L.A. County Department of Public Works has closed the Angeles Forest Highway, Upper Big Tujunga Canyon and Big Tujunga Canyon roads as a precaution because of the rains, but Caltrans officials said the Angeles Crest Highway is currently open.

"If the road is deemed unsafe, it will be closed," said Caltrans spokesman Patrick Chandler.

If the Angeles Crest is deemed unsafe, the gate near La Canada Flintridge will be closed, and all who are traveling on the highway will be let off, Chandler said. However, the gate entering the Angeles Crest Highway near Islip Saddle at the intersection of State Route 39 has been closed because of snow, he said.]

The rain in the foothills is also causing concerns about possible mudslides in recently burned areas and authorities said they were preparing for any necessary evacuations.

“A flash flood watch has been posted for the recent burn areas. Of particular concern … will be the threat of debris flows in the Station and Morris burn areas,” according to a special advisory from the National Weather Service.

Poor weather conditions could have also been responsible for a big rig that jackknifed on the northbound Golden State Freeway in Santa Clarita this morning, leaving two lanes blocked for several hours but resulting in no injuries.

California Highway Patrol officers responded to a call around 4:50 a.m. of a big rig that had overturned and crashed through a guardrail south of Templin Highway, said CHP Officer Jennifer Connolly. The big rig driver lost control as his vehicle hydroplaned over the wet road.

Connolly said officers were still investigating the collision and that one lane would remain closed until about 8:45 a.m. Meier said snow was expected throughout the day at elevations above 4,000 feet in the region and that one to two feet of snow could fall at elevations above 6,000 feet.

Schools in the Rim of the World Unified School District and the Bear Valley Unified School District canceled school for the day. A flash flood watch is in effect for the recently burned areas in Los Angeles County from noon until 9 p.m.

A winter weather advisory has also been issued, and in the Antelope Valley residents may be in store for potential wind gusts of up to 60 mph.

“We should start to see rain tapering off by midnight, with some possible light showers lingering overnight. The real kicker is tonight, any showers that are still around, will be very cold,” Meier said.

She said snow levels could drop down to elevation levels as low as 1,500 feet. She said the harsh weather conditions are expected to let up Tuesday morning and that the rest of Tuesday and Wednesday are expected to stay dry.

Weather experts are expecting another storm Thursday evening into early Friday morning and are later projecting a third storm over the weekend.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy and Ari B. Bloomekatz

Photo: La Canada Flintridge resident Donna McLaughlin stands near a pile of sand bags stacked near her driveway on Ocean View Boulevard this morning. With light rain falling, McLaughlin is taking precautions against possible mud flows. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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