Mudslides, floods, rain, howling winds, 10 feet of snow: California braces for powerful, dangerous storm

Doyle Rice

With the polar vortex in full retreat, the USA's wildest weather shifts to the West.

A powerful, dangerous storm is forecast to batter the western United States over the next couple of days, especially California. Heavy rain could trigger mudslides, rockslides and floods, while feet of snow will bury the mountains, the National Weather Service warned. 

Forecasters say rain will arrive in the north late Friday afternoon and reach southern California late in the night, and last through Saturday night. A flash flood watch was in effect for millions of people in the Los Angeles area, where as much as a half-foot of rain could fall.

Flash flooding and debris flows will be a concern particularly near burn scar areas. "Southern California residents, in or below the recently burned areas, are urged to take the steps necessary to protect their property," the weather service said.

A person walks with an umbrella on a bridge over the 101 Freeway Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, in Los Angeles, as a storm bears down on California.

"If you are in Southern California & live near a recent wildfire burn scar, take the incoming storm extremely seriously," tweeted UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain

As the storm approaches, the biggest priority will be to keep people out of harm’s way, said Craig Sap, district superintendent of California State Parks. People may see a fire coming, but a debris flows gives little or no warning, he said. “If a hillside lets loose, there’s nothing you can do.”

The weather service in Los Angeles warned that "in addition to the heavy rain potential with this storm, the very strong southerly winds could be an equally concerning impact with this storm system." The storm "could bring one of the strongest south-southeast wind events we have seen in recent years."

The strong winds can bring down trees and cause power outages.

Up to 10 feet of snow could fall in the Sierra Nevada, where "travel is highly discouraged." Winter storm warnings were in effect for hundreds of miles of mountainous regions of California, all the way from the Oregon border to north of Los Angeles. 

"While the snow will be a further boost in the snowpack and add to the tremendous bases of snow at the ski resorts, it will lead to major travel disruptions," AccuWeather meteorologist Bernie Rayno said.

Contributing: The Associated Press; Cheri Carlson and Tom Kisken, The Ventura County Star

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mudslides, floods, rain, howling winds, 10 feet of snow: California braces for powerful, dangerous storm