Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Storm caused tornado, water spouts, 80-mph winds, National Weather Service says

January 19, 2010 |  2:56 pm

A powerful storm that hit the Southern California coast this afternoon caused at least one tornado, four water spouts and winds of up to 80 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

“We have everything going today,” said the Weather Service spokesman Bill Hoffer.

Long Beach, Seal Beach, San Pedro and Huntington Beach were hit hardest by the fast-moving storm, which flooded streets, damaged homes, produced hail and ice and stranded cars on the 710 Freeway.

Witnesses reported seeing a tornado touch down in Sunset Beach and lift boats out of the water as it came onshore, sheriff’s officials said.

Sheriff’s deputies were responding to reports that a tornado or waterspout had touched down near Anderson Street and Pacific Coast Highway, lifting several catamarans 30 feet to 50 feet in the air, according to Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Jim Amormino.

Scott Seaton, 60, is the manager of the Peter’s Landing marina. He said he was in the office with his wife when they got a computer warning that a tornado warning had been issued.

He said they watched out the window as the “cyclone,” as Seaton described it, came over their building and touched down in the marina. It stayed there for a while before moving down the marina, getting stronger.

At one point, Seaton said, it picked up a 40-foot sailing catamaran and twirled it several feet in the air. The catamaran dropped back into the water on top of another boat.

(More reports from Irvine, Long Beach, San Pedro, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Ventura County after the jump)

There was damage to that catamaran as well as a small whaler.

“It was just amazing watching that thing dance up in the air,” he said of the catamaran. “As quick as it came it was gone.  I can’t even imagine seeing a monster one because this thing seemed so powerful,” Seaton said of the funnel cloud. “When it came it was just ‘boom.’ It was just unbelievable.”

Heavy rains caused a roof to collapse at Tropitone Furniture Co., at 5 Marconi in Irvine. Police said the company’s 115 employees evacuated the building. A woman who answered the phone at the company said no one was injured.

Hundreds of vehicles were stuck on the 710 Freeway in Long Beach this afternoon in rain-caused floods, authorities said. Firefighters responded this afternoon to the 710 Freeway between Ocean Boulevard and 6th Street, said Long Beach Fire Department Battalion Chief Frank Hayes, attempting to remove hundreds of vehicles that were floating in standing water.

Other rain-related flooding was reported throughout Long Beach, Hayes said, including several intersections that were blocked with floating vehicles.

The Los Angeles Police Department has called a tactical alert and is evacuating homes in San Pedro. The department has also shutdown an area between Pacific and Gaffey and 4th and 7th streets hit by the worst of the flood. Officials say a lightning strike hit the Conoco refinery, causing a small fire.

In Huntington Beach, the beaches were mostly empty while waves surged, lightning struck and wind reached gusts of 52 miles per hour. The gusts topped 72 mph in Newport Beach.

The storm was accompanied by rain, lightning, hail, ice and high waves. Officials are worried about mudslides in burn areas in L.A. and Orange counties as the new storm hit the mountain areas.

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," said Capt. Mike Patterson of the Los Angeles County Fire Department's Lifeguard Division, overlooking 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 and Mike Anton in Orange County, Cathleen Decker and Ruben Vives in Long Beach, Jeff Gottlieb in San Pedro, Andrew Blankstein and Tony Barboza in Los Angeles

Photo: Huntington Beach police check out a Ford Explorer that was turned on its side by winds in the parking lot at Peter's Landing Marina in Huntington Beach. Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times

More breaking news in L.A. Now:

San Pedro area flooded with 3 feet of water

Tornado-like storm tears shingles off roofs in Goleta

Debris basins, filling rapidly, cause concern in fire areas

San Diego mayor cites 'prejudice' in earlier opposition to gay marriage

Man ordered to stand trial in Ryan Seacrest stalking case

Proposal to build 13-story tower next to the Grove raises traffic concerns

San Onofre siren wakes nearby residents, turns out to be false alarm

Schwarzenegger's effort to release 40,000 prisoners put on hold by Supreme Court

Second storm moving into Southern California could bring mudflows, more power outages

L.A. City Council gives preliminary approval to pot ordinance requiring 1,000-foot buffer zones