California readies for onslaught of storms

Residents of canyons and foothills braced for possible mudslides as a series of powerful storms is forecast to begin pounding the West Coast today with heavy rain and snow, strong winds and high surf.

National Weather Service meteorologist Jamie Meier said the foothills and mountain areas around Los Angeles could receive 8 to 16 inches of rain this week.

Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies went door-to-door Sunday, warning residents in the most vulnerable areas that they should leave for safer ground when the rains start and before mandatory evacuations are issued, Lt. Angela Shepherd said. Those homes are in areas stripped of vegetation and left susceptible to slides of mud, ash, rock and debris by massive wildfires last year.

She said roads into forest and mountain areas would close to traffic. The county has put in place sandbags and concrete barriers to try to divert slides away from homes.

Bob Spencer, spokesman for the county Department of Public Works, said the department has advised more than 500 homeowners to erect barriers that could protect their homes.

"There are certainly hundreds of residences that could be vulnerable," he said.

High surf and big swells were forecast to accompany the storms, and in Northern California, the Coast Guard and state officials urged boaters to avoid the water this week. Waves reaching 25 feet were predicted. Inland, heavy snow was forecast for higher elevations, and forecasters said coastal and urban flooding was possible in parts of Southern California.

The weather service is predicting that this will likely be the wettest week in Southern California since early 2005.

In addition to the heavy rain, winds could howl up to 70 mph in the mountains around Los Angeles.

Farther north, the worry is snow, and lots of it. According to Weather Channel meteorologist Tom Moore, the series of storms could dump up to 6 to 8 feet of snow on the Sierra Nevada this week.

The Weather Channel also reports that the rain and snow this week will spread across the interior West, with especially heavy precipitation forecast in Arizona, southern Nevada, southern Utah and southwestern Colorado.

Meier says this weather is typical of El Niño, a cyclical climate pattern in which surface water temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean are warmer than normal. A strong El Niño usually results in a stormy winter along the West Coast, a wet winter across the South, and a warmer-than-average winter for parts of the North, according to the Climate Prediction Center.
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