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Public Safety

Lengthy winter storm keeps drenching San Diego area

A sign rea
Jacob Aere
/
KPBS
A sign showing the exit for Pine Valley Road and Julian is seen in this photo taken Feb. 7, 2024. San Diego County, Calif.

Heavy, wet snow is expected in mountain areas of San Diego County Thursday, and travel could be difficult to impossible with up to 14 inches of snow and wind gusts up to 60 mph on the highest peaks.

A winter storm warning is in effect until noon Thursday, with between 6 to 10 inches of snow expected at elevations above 4,000 feet and 10 to 14 inches at the highest peaks, according to the National Weather Service.

The persistent winter storm brought heavy rain to the San Diego area Wednesday for a fourth straight day, further drenching the already soaked region with more steady downpours and topping its mountains with drifts of snow.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom requested an official disaster declaration from President Joe Biden on Wednesday to help a recovering San Diego.

"The late January storm saw record-breaking rain in San Diego, where the worst impacts were felt in lower-income neighborhoods," Newsom said. "Many folks saw damage to their life's work that can't be recovered without federal support.

"I'm requesting a Major Disaster Declaration from President Biden to support communities in San Diego that were hit hard last month," he said.

If approved, the disaster declaration will help people in the impacted counties through eligibility for programs and support that can include housing assistance, vehicle replacement, food aid, counseling, medical services and legal services, a statement from the governor's office read.

As of late Wednesday morning, the unsettled atmospheric system had dropped anywhere from a few tenths of an inch to more than 7 1/2 inches of rain across the county and delivered in excess of six inches of frozen white flakes across its eastern highlands, according to the National Weather Service.

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Due to icy roadway conditions in upper-elevation areas, the county Department of Public Works announced that motorists must use tire chains and/or snow tires in some frigid locales, including Mount Laguna and Palomar Mountain, and on stretches of Montezuma Valley and San Felipe roads. Details on the requirements are available online at https://quickmap.dot.ca.gov/.

Because of inclement weather and icy road conditions, some schools will be closed Thursday, the San Diego County Office of Education said.

Schools in the following districts will be closed:

— Julian Union Elementary School District;

— Julian Union High School District;

— Mountain Empire Unified School District;

— Spencer Valley School District;

— Warner Unified School District.

The storm has broken weather records in Alpine and Ramona, meteorologists said. A total of 1.32 inches of rain fell in the latter community on Tuesday, exceeding the previous milestone reading of 0.92 inches, set in 1998. Also, the low maximum temperature of in Alpine on Tuesday, 49 degrees, nudging aside the old record of 50 degrees, set in 2019, the NWS reported.

Late Tuesday morning, sightings of spiraling clouds in the sky heading northeast over Chula Vista prompted the weather service to issue a tornado warning — a local rarity — for parts of the South Bay and East County. As of 12:45 p.m., when the advisory expired, there were no reports of any twisters touching ground, according to the federal agency.

Among the rainfall totals from the storm by shortly before 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to the NWS, were 7.59 inches in San Onofre; 6.11 at Camp Pendleton; 4.42 in Fallbrook; 4.0 in Bonsall; 3.84 at Lake Wohlford; 3.77 in Mesa Grande; 3.72 in Oceanside; 3.68 in Skyline Ranch; 3.66 in Deer Springs; 3.47 at Rainbow Camp; 3.28 at Henshaw Dam; 3.27 in Carlsbad; 3.24 in Valley Center; 3.2 in Couser Canyon; 3.16 on Mount Woodson; and 3.05 in Santa Ysabel.

The latest tallies also included 2.97 inches in National City; 2.92 at Lake Cuyamaca; 2.89 in Escondido; 2.88 in Santee; 2.83 in Vista; 2.75 at Miramar Lake; 2.74 in Ramona; 2.73 in San Diego Country Estates; 2.71 in Alpine; 2.67 in La Mesa; 2.66 in Barona; 2.61 in Granite Hills, Harbison Canyon and Poway; 2.49 in San Marcos; 2.47 in Kearny Mesa; 2.45 in Encinitas; 2.4 in Flinn Springs and on Otay Mountain; 2.39 at San Diego International Airport; 2.36 at Montgomery Field; 2.34 in Campo; 2.29 in Point Loma; 2.28 at Brown Field; 2.27 in Pine Valley; 2.23 at Naval Air Station North Island; 2.2 in Mission Valley; and 2.13 in Rancho Bernardo.

Other four-day rainfall amounts were 1.94 inches at Dulzura Summit; 1.83 in Tierra Del Sol; 1.8 in Oak Grove; 1.75 in Warner Springs; 1.31 in Ranchita; 1.03 on Volcan Mountain; 0.59 in Ocotillo Wells; 0.35 in Borrego Springs; and 0.17 in Agua Caliente.

Local snowfall measurements included 6 to 8 inches on Mount Laguna; 6 inches on Birch Hill and Palomar Mountain; 3 inches in Julian and Pine Hills; 3 inches in Descanso; and 2 inches in Wynola.

Last weekend, Newsom declared a state of emergency in Southern California due to the predicted severity of the storm, which has proved to be significantly more intense in areas north of San Diego County. The proclamation included provisions authorizing a California National Guard response if needed, facilitating unemployment benefits for impacted residents and making it easier for out-of-state contractors and utilities to repair weather-related damage.

Forecasters have warned that the unsettled weather pattern could generate strong winds — from 15 to 25 mph and gusts up to 35 mph in some places — that might blow away unsecured outdoor objects, snap off tree limbs and cause power outages.

San Diego Gas & Electric prepared for the storm by increasing the number of field crews and equipment available "to restore power as quickly and safely as possible should power outages occur," the utility company advised.

San Diego County emergency-services and public-works officials offered the public the following storm-safety tips:

— Avoid driving through deep water;

— Avoid oversteering or stomping on the brakes if you start to hydroplane or skid;

— Avoid texting or using a hand-held cell phone when driving;

— Slow down to avoid getting into an accident;

— Turn on your headlights to see better;

— Try to drive toward the middle lanes as water tends to gather in outside lanes;

— Defog your windows for better visibility;

— Never drive through a flooded roadway;

— Give the cars in front of you extra distance; and

— Watch out for public works crews and equipment.

Due to potential harsh weather conditions, an emergency shelter at 2111 Pan American Plaza is open to the public and can be reached at 619-525- 8262. Services at the shelter will include places for displaced people to stay, meals, snacks, crisis counseling, help replacing medication and pet support from the San Diego Humane Society.

Alert San Diego has provided residents with all other information regarding flooding and can be found at the following links:

Residents can also text HELP to 98266 to get safety information.

The United Taxi Workers of San Diego is helping impacted residents get to the temporary shelter at no charge. To schedule a ride customers can call 619-280-4444 or use the "Ride United" passenger application. Residents seeking services should provide a pick-up location and select "Balboa Park Municipal Gym" or "Mountain View Community Recreation Center" as their drop- off location, county officials said.

A temporary homeless shelter has been set up at the Balboa Park Activity Center at 16th Street and Newton Bridge Shelter.

The Department of Public Works is picking up flood-damaged debris and items from homes in the unincorporated communities. Pickup in unincorporated areas can be reached at 858-495-5700. Additional storm recovery resources can be reached by dialing 211.

The county advised against putting debris near curbs during rainy weather, where it can wash away and cause a hazard.

This week's storm comes after a spate of historically heavy downpours that left roadways, commercial districts and residential neighborhoods underwater across the region two weeks ago. The wettest day, Jan. 22, delivered the highest 24-hour rainfall amounts in San Diego since 1850, according to the NWS.

The inundation, which washed away many a parked car and heavily damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes, prompted the city and county of San Diego, along with Newsom, to declare states of emergency.

Since then, authorities have been taking steps, including monitoring tens of thousands of storm drains, to prevent more storm-driven destruction, Mayor Todd Gloria said during a recent news briefing. He urged those who live or work in flood-prone areas to remain proactively vigilant as well.

The city and the San Diego Housing Commission have opened a new 50- room shelter at a former hotel site in the Midway district to provide a refuge from those impact the recent storms.

Another round of more widespread downpours will continue through early Thursday, followed by more intermittent and milder rain through Friday and possibly into the weekend, according to meteorologists.

A period of dry weather and slowly warming temperatures is expected to kick in Sunday in the San Diego area, forecasters said.

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