40 mile-per-hour mudslides, floods: California storms could cause serious damage

John Bacon

An ominous forecast of heavy rains and snow threatened wildfire-scorched California on Tuesday with more mudslides and blowing snow that already forced closure of sections of the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway and Interstate 5.

"There will be no day through at least Thursday when a significant part of California is not being affected by a storm rolling in from the Pacific Ocean," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said.

Rainfall totals for the storms could reach 4-8 inches along the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada and the northern Coast Ranges, as well as some mountains surrounding Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Higher up in the Sierra Nevada mountains multiple feet of snow could fall, AccuWeather said.

This photo provided by the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) shows a skiploader clearing a river of mud that has flowed onto Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, Calif., Jan. 14, 2019. The first in a series of Pacific storms is moving across Southern California, where downpours could unleash mud and debris flows from large wildfire burn scars.

The National Weather Service said a "deep Pacific trough" off the West Coast will remain in place over the next few days and approach central California late Tuesday.

"A much stronger storm arrives Wednesday night," the weather service added.

Burn scar areas hit by last year's wildfires will be most susceptible to devastating debris flows, but flooding and mudslides may not be limited to these communities, AccuWeather said.

More: Series of storms to pummel California with rain, snow, wind

More: California mudslides shut down Pacific Coast Highway

In Los Angeles County, a section of the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu was closed for several hours Monday because of what the state Transportation Department – Caltrans – described as "significant mud flow and runoff in various areas." On the central coast, a section of the highway was also closed near Big Sur. 

In Grapevine, 80 miles north of Los Angeles, ice blowing snow forced closure of I-5 and stranded vehicles for hours.

Northwest of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara County issued an evacuation order for homes and businesses below the Thomas Fire and Sherpa and Whittier Fire burn areas. To the southwest, Riverside County eased its evacuation order for the Holy Fire burn area to voluntary from mandatory.

That did little to assuage the concerns of Mary Lou Peralta, who lives in the evacuation area.

"We had a clubhouse meeting and they told us the mudslides could come down the hill at 40 miles per hour," Peralta told KTLA-TV. "That's very scary. It's dangerous."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 40 mile-per-hour mudslides, floods: California storms could cause serious damage