California faces threat of blizzards and floods as a ‘slow-moving’ winter storm lingers

LOS ANGELES — Rare blizzard warnings were in place for Southern California mountains and forecasters warned of 5 feet of snow at higher elevations, while other parts of the country were still recovering from a major winter storm.

Almost 800,000 homes and businesses in Michigan, including in the metro Detroit area, were without power Thursday after what a utility president called a historic ice storm.

In the west, Portland, Oregon, had its second-snowiest day on record Wednesday, with over 10 inches, the National Weather Service said. The 80-year record of 14.4 inches was set Jan. 21, 1943, according to weather service records.

The heavy snow wreaked havoc on travel.

So many stuck cars were abandoned that the city said it was waiving fines for vehicles that are towed for blocking travel lanes.

Cars and trucks have stopped along Interstate 84 because of weather conditions in Northeast Portland, Ore., on Thursday.Dave Killen / The Oregonian via AP

“I probably won’t see it until Monday, if that,” Eric Zavala told NBC affiliate KGW of Portland about his car, which he had to leave after it became stuck.

The Multnomah County medical examiner’s office was investigating a possible hypothermia death that occurred in Portland on Wednesday, the county said, but whether the person died from the cold has not been confirmed.

The snow wound down in Portland on Thursday, but a wind chill advisory was still in place until noon Friday, with wind chills of minus 5 degrees possible, according to the weather service.

In California, the weather service in San Diego issued blizzard warnings for the San Bernardino County mountains, in a first for the office.

Blizzard warnings were also in effect for mountains in Los Angeles and Ventura counties for the first time since 1989, the weather service said.

The warnings were in effect from 4 a.m. Friday until 4 p.m. Saturday. Areas from 2,000 to 4,000 feet could get up to 1 foot of snow, and higher than that could get 5 feet, forecasters said.

Below the snow line, heavy rain could cause flooding. Parts of the Los Angeles area, including downtown, were under a flood watch from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. The state faced threats from what the weather service called “an unusually cold and slow-moving winter storm.”

Either snow or graupel — which is a fragile type of frozen precipitation also called soft hail — fell on Mount Lee in Los Angeles, where the Hollywood sign is, the weather service said after having examined video.

The California Department of Transportation urged drivers to stay home in affected areas.

Traffic was held up Thursday on Highway 50 in Meyers, south of Lake Tahoe, because of spinouts, the agency said, and Interstate 80 in the Sierra Nevada, from the Nevada state line to Colfax, was closed in both directions. Some cameras in the area were frozen.

Drivers were also briefly stranded on the San Marcos Pass on Highway 154 near Santa Barbara, a Santa Barbara County fire spokesman said. Plows cleared the way, but intermittent closures were possible in the future.

Meanwhile Thursday, much of Midwest and the Northeast was recovering from a major winter storm that hit this week.

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul got more than 1 foot of snow, and parts of Michigan were hit by an ice storm that tore down trees and power lines.

More than 790,000 electricity customers were without power Thursday night, according to the outage tracking website, mostly in south and southeast Michigan.

DTE Energy, the state’s largest power and gas company, said it had 3,000 wires down.

“We’re in the midst of an historic ice storm, one that we have not seen in Michigan for over 50 years,” Trevor Lauer, the president of DTE subsidiary DTE Electric, said Thursday.

Lauer urged people to stay inside. Downed energized lines can be hidden by tree branches, and if they are on a fence, the fence can become electrified. “It’s an extremely dangerous condition right now that we have,” he said.

In Van Buren County, on the western side of the state, a volunteer firefighter died Wednesday after a tree branch fell and brought down a power line, the fire department said.

Paw Paw Volunteer Fire Lt. Ethan Quillen, 28, was electrocuted, it said.

Around a half-inch of freezing rain fell on Wayne County, where Detroit is located, according to the weather service.

Lauer expected 95% of DTE’s customers without power to have it back by Sunday. Another utility, Consumers Energy, also had major outages but expected many customers to have power Sunday.

In the Northeast, snow and ice were forecast to taper off Friday, the weather service said.

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