A powerful Pacific storm covering the entire length of California knocked out power for thousands and threatened dangerous mudslides in communities near mountains stripped of protective foliage by drought-fueled wildfires.
Almost 3 inches of rain fell on downtown Los Angeles through Friday evening, more than double in one day the total of 1.2 inches it had gotten since July 1 — a stretch of nine months.
A nine-mile stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway was shut down until noon (3 p.m. ET) Friday because of the potential for rock and mudslides.
Authorities ordered mandatory mudslide evacuations for more than 1,000 residents of several communities in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, which were expected to get as much as 8 inches of rain through Saturday — in an area where the Colby Fire in January destroyed ground cover and trees that could hold back the mud.
"It could come apart days from now or months from now," said Dave Malkoff, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel.
"If you choose to not heed those mandatory evacuations, you must understand something: As long as the mud is flowing, the fire department cannot get to you," Los Angeles County Assistant Fire Chief Steven Martin said.
Runoff in the Los Angeles River near Dodger Stadium swept away two people and their dogs, who had to be rescued by the fire department's swift water rescue team Friday morning.
No one — human or canine — was injured. The dogs were described as "very well-behaved."
Peak wind gusts were clocked at 60 mph in parts of Los Angeles County and 50 mph in San Luis Obispo County. By Friday evening, about 24,000 utility customers in California remained without power.
In Northern California, the storm led to urban and small stream flood warnings as rain fell in excess of a half-inch an hour.
A 36-year-old man was hospitalized after he was struck by lightning in western Fresno County, while fire officials rescued a homeless man after he became trapped in waist-deep water in rain-swollen Coyote Creek in San Jose. A funnel cloud was even spotted near Sacramento, leading to a brief tornado warning.
More than 200 flights into and out of the San Francisco and Los Angeles airports were canceled, according to FlightAware.com.
There were also reports of drivers' leaving behind their vehicles as the water rose quickly in some areas.
Salvador Garcia said he was stranded in about 4 feet of standing water in San Jose when he failed to realize the depth, NBC Bay Area reported. A 911 dispatcher told him to say in his car, he said, but he opted out.
"The water just started flooding in," he told the station. "The last thing I was going to do was stay in there."
California's rain totals are far below normal, and it will take a series of drenching storms to make a dent in a statewide drought that is among the worst in recent history.
The state Department of Water Resources took a new survey of the Sierra Nevada snowpack Thursday and found the water content at only 24 percent of average for the date. The northern and central Sierra snowpack normally provides about a third of the water used by California's cities and farms.
Rosanna Arlia and Henry Austin of NBC News contributed to this report.
First published February 28 2014, 3:32 AM