Local

Winter storm brings snow, snarled traffic, fatalities

Snow blankets a home and dusts the tops of palm trees in Temecula, Calif., on the morning of December 31, 2014.
Snow blankets a home and dusts the tops of palm trees in Temecula, Calif., on the morning of December 31, 2014.
Kitty Felde/KPCC
Snow blankets a home and dusts the tops of palm trees in Temecula, Calif., on the morning of December 31, 2014.
Snow blankets a rooftop and dusts the tops of palm trees in Temecula, Calif., on the morning of December 31, 2014.
Kitty Felde/KPCC
Snow blankets a home and dusts the tops of palm trees in Temecula, Calif., on the morning of December 31, 2014.
Snow covers a patio in Temecula, Calif., on the morning of December 31, 2014.
Kitty Felde/KPCC
Snow blankets a home and dusts the tops of palm trees in Temecula, Calif., on the morning of December 31, 2014.
Unusual early snowfall is seen in Wildomar, California, near the 15 Freeway Wednesday morning, December 31, 2014.
Daniella Segura/KPCC
Snow blankets a home and dusts the tops of palm trees in Temecula, Calif., on the morning of December 31, 2014.
Unusual early snowfall is seen in Wildomar, California, near the 15 Freeway Wednesday morning, December 31, 2014.
Daniella Segura/KPCC
Snow blankets a home and dusts the tops of palm trees in Temecula, Calif., on the morning of December 31, 2014.
Authorities say firefighters had to rescue 136 people who got stranded late Tuesday in about a foot of snow in the San Bernardino Mountains. More people were stranded near Mount Baldy.
Courtesy of NBCLA.com


SoCal snow pics »

An unusually cold end-of-year storm brought snow to lowland cities across Southern California. It also created havoc for motorists and may have been responsible for at least one death on Santa Catalina Island.

Updates

7:03 p.m. Men who died off Santa Catalina identified

The men who died following strong winds Tuesday night off Santa Catalina Island have been identified: Bruce Ryder, 53 and Timothy Mitchell, 39, NBC L.A. reports.

Mitchell was an Avalon harbor patrolman who had been aboard an Avalon Harbor Department boat trying to secure boats who came loose from their moorings during the winter storm's winds on Tuesday night, NBC L.A. reports, citing the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Update 2:06 p.m.: Harbor Patrol officer was trying to secure boats in storm

A Harbor Patrol officer killed off Santa Catalina Island late Tuesday was trying to help secure boats that had come loose during an end-of-year storm that brought high winds to the area, snarled traffic, dumped snow even on low-lying cities in Southern California and contributed to at least three other fatalities in Northern California.

The officer, whose name has not been released, jumped from one of the Avalon Harbor Department's boats when it came perilously close to hitting the rocks, according to a statement from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Two deputies attempted to reach the officer, but the patrolman was caught between the boat and the rocks under rough water.

Divers with the sheriff's department recovered the officer's body at 11 a.m. after discovering the body of another male victim floating in the water. It was unclear who the second victim was, according to the statement.

Reports of a third person missing could not be confirmed, Sheriff's Deputy Guillermina Saldaña told KPCC.

A cause of death for the officer and the other victim would be determined later by the L.A. County Coroner, according to the statement. Authorities do not plan to release the victims' identities until next of kin have been notified.

Three Northern California deaths have also been linked to the storm.

Falling trees killed two people in the town of Paradise on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

And early Wednesday, a woman was killed when an 40-foot tall, 8-foot wide grey pine tree fell onto a home in Redding.

A man and a 3-year-old girl were injured in the incident, according to the National Weather Service, which said the area saw wind gusts up to 38 mph overnight.

The storm also left a light blanket of snow on cities that rarely see any of the stuff stick to the ground, including Temecula, Fallbrook and Escondido.

Snow fell on areas as low as 1,000 feet, with accumulations east and southeast of Los Angeles, according to AP.

Temecula City Manager Aaron Adams told AP his 12- and 14-year-old daughters were sledding down the hill outside his home on bodyboards usually used in the surf.

The storm also stranded nearly 200 motorists on mountain roads northeast of Los Angeles overnight.

— KPCC staff

Update 12:01 p.m. Winter storm may have third victim

Deputies were searching for a possible third victim of the end-of-year storm around 11:30 a.m., CBS L.A. reports, citing the Avalon Sheriff's Department.

Homicide detectives were sent to investigate, according to CBS L.A.

“Whenever the death or disappearance of a person occurs as a result of a boating accident and/or incident on the waters within Los Angeles County, LASD Homicide Bureau responds and investigates,” Deputy Guillermina Saldaña said, CBS L.A. reports.

KPCC staff

10:22 a.m.: Harbor Patrol officer dies in storm

Two people died Tuesday night in what appeared to be storm-related boating accidents on Santa Catalina Island.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's officials said detectives were en route to Avalon to investigate the death of a Harbor Patrol officer there.

No information on the identify of the officer was available, according to Nicole Nishida, the public information officer for the sheriff's department.

She said the department received a call at 10:55 p.m. and that 10 to 20 law enforcement divers were on their way to the island to help recover the body.

According to the coroner's office, the officer was swept off a boat in the harbor as crews were "assisting boats that were in distress," NBC4 reports:

At least three boats broke from moorings overnight off the rocky island about 20 miles from the coast of Southern California. Video showed the boats, which broke loose at about 10 p.m. Tuesday, on the shoreline early Wednesday just off the harbor area as waves continued to crash into and over the sea wall.

Gusts were reported at 40 mph Tuesday night in Avalon, according to the National Weather Service.

A second person's body was discovered while searching for the officer, according to NBC4.

Meanwhile, fierce wind gusts were responsible for toppling at least six big rigs during the Wednesday morning rush hour, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“It’s pretty bad," CHP Officer Marcelo Llerena told the Times. “Wind advisories have been in effect … and people are still driving and this is what happens."

9:17 a.m.: Winter storm brings snow to SoCal cities

Snow has been reported in several lowland cities throughout Southern California after an unusually cold night and a winter storm that left nearly 200 people stranded on mountain roads.

KPCC's Kitty Felde shared photos from her brother in Temecula, where snow blanketed his truck and patio furniture. She said he couldn't remember it snowing there in his lifetime.

Snow also settled over Wildomar. KPCC staffer Daniella Segura shared photos from her father showing snow covering the family's roof, front yard and car.

NBC7 reports snow also fell in Fallbrook and Murrieta, and ABC10 adds Julian, Escondido, Campo and Valley Center to the list.

Here's more from NBC:

Seldom do the snow levels drop as low as 1,500 feet – the elevation at Fallbrook – but temperatures dipped down to freezing, leading to skiff of snow across the lowland parts.

"People were running outside in their pajamas," NBC 7 meteorologist Jodi Kodesh said of messages she received from friends and viewers. "I thought it was awesome."

Heavier snowfall in the mountains stranded nearly 200 motorists overnight. Firefighters had rescued all of them by early morning, and no injuries were reported.

8:39 a.m.: Nearly 200 rescued on snowy mountain highways

Nearly 200 people have been rescued after their vehicles were stranded due to heavy snow in the San Bernardino Mountains Tuesday night, according to the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

Firefighters helped rescue 136 motorists whose vehicles became stuck on the steep, snowy switchbacks along Highway 138 near Crestline, according to a statement from county fire officials.

Fortunately, no injuries were reported, according to county fire spokesman Ryan Beckers.

"When it’s snowing in the mountains, you have to be prepared with extra supplies, and fortunately a lot of the people who were up there last night were at least somewhat prepared," Beckers told KPCC.

Snow-cats, machines similar to those used to groom ski slopes, were used to navigate through the snowy roads. 

"We were able to get in there and maneuver around and get into where no other vehicle could really go and rescue them and get them out and bring them to shelters," Beckers said.

While some motorists were able to drive away after plows cleared snow, others abandoned their vehicles and walked to shelter or were able to get to their homes, according to the statement. Fifty people were ultimately sheltered at the First Baptist Church in Crestline.

Near Mount Baldy, approximately 50 additional people were stranded in similar situations, according to the statement.

The overnight rescue finished by 3 a.m. Wednesday.

This story has been updated. Do you have snow pics from this morning to share? Tweet them to @kpcc or post them to our Facebook page.

Storify