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Historic storm pounds Southern California with damaging winds and record rain

A fallen tree crushes a car at a residence on Feb. 18 in the Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles (Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press)

Residents all across Southern California are waking up this morning to an unfamiliar scene. Downed power lines, flooded interstates and car-sized sinkholes are what’s left in the wake of what is being called the strongest storm to hit the region since 1995. Historic rainfall and powerful hurricane-force winds caused widespread damage, resulting in at least two storm-related deaths.

What follows is a summary of the storm impacts.


The numbers are staggering. 9.89 inches of rain fell at Old Man Mountain in the elevated terrain north of Los Angeles. In the normally picturesque coastal town of Santa Barbara, a record 4.32 inches of rain fell at the airport, making it the wettest February day in 77 years of record keeping and causing the airport to close for the first time in 18 years.

At least two people are dead after an intense storm pounds California causing flooding, mudslides, and power outages. (Video: Reuters)

Farther down Interstate 5, the storm was just as intense. San Diego and its surrounding locations were drenched Friday night under a heavy band of rain that sat nearly stationary over the city for several hours, prompting a severe thunderstorm warning to be issued.

It will take some time for the rainfall numbers to be cross-checked and finalized, but most accounts, a widespread 2 to 6 inches of rain fell Friday across Southern California, with higher totals in elevated locations.

This is a region that has already seen historic rainfall during the winter of 2016-2017. Since Jan. 1, upward of 10 inches or more of rain had already fallen in Southern California, representing more than 400 percent above the average precipitation for the same time frame. It has to be pretty wet to essentially erase a multiyear drought in a matter of a few weeks.


With the ground already oversaturated, widespread flash floods was reported almost immediately as the rain began to fall. Fast rising water on the I-5 and 110 freeways forced dozens of people to need to be rescued from their cars. Many others just abandoned their cars all together, creating a bizarre sea of abandoned cars along some of the United States’ most heavily congested roadways.

A sinkhole swallowed two vehicles in Los Angeles following a massive storm on the night of Feb.17. (Video: Reuters)

And even when help did arrive, at times it proved no match to the fury of the powerful storm. Numerous sinkholes formed all across the region, swallowing cars, trees and in one dramatic case, a fire engine. Los Angeles ABC-7 reporter Rob McMillan caught a wild scene on camera when a firetruck was washed away by floodwaters on I-15.

As the rain began to subside late Friday night, the concern became more focused on mudslides and sinkholes, which are likely to cause problems for several days after the storm.


During the peak of the storm, winds of up to 80 mph were reported in parts of Los Angeles. Dozens of trees were brought down by the storm, sometimes with deadly results. In Sherman Oaks, a 55-year-old man died after he was electrocuted after a falling tree brought down power lines that hit his car.

The Los Angeles Fire Department responded to at least 150 calls of downed power lines Friday as more than 100,000 people across Southern California lost power because of the storm. Thanks to the strong winds, hundreds of flights were canceled from San Diego to Los Angeles, with more delays and cancellations likely Saturday.

Another storm on the way

Perhaps the most deflating news for California residents is the upcoming forecast. The deluge brought on by the persistent Pineapple Express will deliver another powerful storm to the state Sunday night into Tuesday.

This storm should be more of a problem for Central and Northern California, but it’s not as if those regions haven’t had their problems with rainfall recently either. In particular, all eyes will be on the Lake Oroville dam with more rain on the way.