Storms crippled parts of California

January 28, 2008 8:35:40 PM PST
Blue skies opened up over California on Monday after a storm system that had pummeled the state for days finally moved on, bringing heavy snow, flooding and hundreds of wrecks to several states across the West.

Colorado's San Juan Mountains were socked with 30 inches of snow and wind gusts of as high as 100 mph, while roofs collapsed at several business in north Idaho after 20 inches of snow fell around Coeur d'Alene.

"They got clobbered," National Weather Service meteorologist John Livingston said of Coeur d'Alene residents. A second wintery blast was forecast to hit the state Tuesday.

In Durango, Colo., about 340 miles southwest of Denver, even the sledding hills were at risk of avalanches after 18 inches of snowfall.

"Anybody who's going out sledding should be letting their parents know where they are, and parents be aware of the slide potential, particularly on north-facing slopes," La Plata County sheriff's Lt. Dan Bender said. "Find a place that isn't real steep."

In Spokane, Wash., where 13.7 inches of snow fell, city officials closed City Hall and urged residents to stay home to give snowplows a chance to catch up. City and county governments told nonessential workers to stay home.

"It's not an emergency," Mayor Mary Verner said. "It's just major snowstorm of a kind that we have not seen in many years."

In eastern Oregon's Wallowa Mountains, authorities found two snowmobilers missing over the weekend in the 4 feet of snow that fell there.

One was safe in a cabin, but the other was "extremely hypothermic" and under the care of a nurse and paramedic who flew in on a helicopter. The snow was too heavy for the helicopter to lift off, 911 dispatch director Jerry Boyd said.

Snowbird ski resort in Utah stopped the chair lifts more than two hours early after receiving about 15 inches of snow.

"It's rare to close down the lifts," spokeswoman Laura Schaffer said. "The minute the avalanche danger got up there, we felt it was safer to get (skiers) off the mountain."

Avalanches damaged four houses and a garage northwest of Ketchum, Idaho, and the potential for more falling snow sent police door to door to evacuate 71 homes, said police spokeswoman Kim Rogers. Those residents were allowed to return home Monday evening.

California finally saw clear skies Monday after a week of downpours and heavy snowfalls, but the reprieve might not last long. There was a 20 percent chance of rain Wednesday, and two more storms, weaker than the past weekend's, were forecast to reach the region on Friday.

No major mudslides, flooding or overflowing creek beds had been reported by Monday afternoon.

But experts said canyons and hills in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties that were charred by last year's wildfires remained vulnerable.

"Even though today's weather conditions have improved, many areas, particularly the burn areas of Southern California, are at risk of mudslides due to saturated soil conditions," Office of Emergency Services spokesman Gary Renick said.

The stormy weather boosted Los Angeles' rainfall to 11.73 inches so far this season, including 7.97 inches this month alone. Normal rainfall by this time would be 6.74 inches.

In Arizona, the precipitation fell as heavy rain, flooding creeks and rivers. Some residents of the town of Carrizo fled for a time after fears that two dams might fail. The evacuations were canceled after water levels lowered and an inspection of the dams showed no apparent damage.

At least three traffic deaths were believed linked to the storm, and a man walking along a road in Washington state died after being struck by a state snowplow, authorities said.

Thousands lost power, but utilities in several states expected most customers to have service restored by Monday evening.

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Simon Shifrin in Boise, Idaho; Arthur H. Rotstein in Tucson, Ariz.; and John K. Wiley in Spokane, Wash.