A spectacular series of thunderstorms rolled through Southern California, bringing walnut-sized hail and bursts of heavy rain that triggered mudslides and shut down the main highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Parts of the region remained under a severe weather watch early Tuesday.
Interstate 5 was closed for about five hours Monday in both directions about 65 miles north of Los Angeles, because of mudslides and up to four feet of standing water on the road, said California Highway Patrol spokesman Johnny Fisher.
“There’s a few feet of mud all over the roadway,” Fisher said.
At least one death was blamed on the storms. A gasoline tanker crashed and caught fire on Interstate 5 north of downtown Los Angeles, killing the driver, police said.
Approximately 140,000 customers in Southern California lost power, utilities said.
Fall storms turn ugly
The fall storms began sending light showers into the region late Saturday and again on Sunday, then unleashed a barrage of cannon-shot thunderclaps and deluges early Monday. They were sparked by an upper-level, low-pressure system southwest of Los Angeles due to depart Tuesday, the National Weather Service said.
In the Los Angeles area, mud and debris flowed off a burned mountainside in suburban Burbank, and hail the size of walnuts pelted Arcadia. Hollywood Hills neighborhoods were freckled with pea-size hail.
The storms forced the cancellation of a rooftop concert by INXS that was to celebrate Monday’s opening of the new Virgin Megastore in Hollywood.
Freeways were clogged with accidents. In San Diego County, there were 72 accidents between noon and 4 p.m., the California Highway Patrol reported. On a normal day, 50 to 75 accidents are recorded in 24 hours.
Flash flood concerns were raised in areas denuded by big wildfires in late September and early this month, when the region was under the spell of a dry heat wave.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for northern Los Angeles County and warned of possible overflow in streams and other bodies of water in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
Authorities in Burbank sealed off an area around Sunset Canyon where 1,100 acres of brush burned. No residents were evacuated, but police did not allow any motorists into the area, said Deputy Chief Larry Koch.
“The sky just opened up, and I don’t think it can rain any harder or faster,” Koch said. “There were times when it was absolutely a deluge.”