A powerful winter storm moving into Southern California has already whipped up strong winds and brought snowfall to higher elevations, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a rare blizzard warning for areas of Ventura and Los Angeles counties.  

Wind gusts approaching 55 miles per hour toppled trees in Manhattan Beach, Torrance and the Palos Verdes Peninsula overnight causing minor damage and thankfully no injuries.

“An unusual winter storm will approach the area Thursday and will then produce periods of heavy rain and heavy mountain snow to the region Friday through Saturday night,” the National Weather Service said.

Blizzard warning

High wind and winter storm warnings have been issued for Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties. NWS’s blizzard warning for mountain areas in Ventura and L.A. counties, the first since 1989, is in effect from 4 a.m. Friday through 4 p.m. Saturday.

“We have not experienced blizzard-like conditions in our Southern California mountains since before 2007,” KTLA weatherman Kaj Goldberg said. “So, we’re getting ready for an historic event.”

“Snow accumulations up to 5 feet and wind gusts in excess of 55 mph are expected,” the NWS said on Twitter. “Low snow levels will mean that this could be the largest amount of 24-48 hour snowfall seen in decades for our Ventura and Los Angeles County mountains.”

Caltrans warns nonessential travelers to avoid areas of the San Bernardino County Mountains, like Big Bear, where snow began falling Wednesday with much more ahead.

“We’ll be talking about 1-2 inches of snow per hour,” Andrew Tardy, with the National Weather Service, told KTLA. “We’ll be talking about 2-3 feet of snow by Saturday evening.”  

Snow levels are expected to drop from the higher mountains down to elevated valleys and mountain passes in the L.A. area Wednesday night into Thursday. Elevations as low as 1,000 feet could see 1 to 6 inches of snow, creating dangerous driving conditions on the 5 Freeway through the Grapevine and elsewhere.

Winter Storm
Satellite-radar composite and weather alerts for Southern California. Feb. 22, 2023. (NWS)

While the north and southbound lanes of the 5 Freeway through the Grapevine were open Wednesday afternoon, California Highway Patrol said they do expect closures over the next several days.

Some foothill communities and even the famous Hollywood Sign could see snowflakes mixed in with heavy rain.

Heavy rainfall

On Friday, rainfall rates of up to 1 inch an hour on the frontal band of the storm will bring the potential for flooding and issues near burn scars. Precipitation totals are expected to be between 2 and 4 inches.

Saturday, the last day of precipitation in the forecast, could also bring heavy showers, lightning and even the possibility of small hail, the NWS said. There is also the potential for waterspout activity over the ocean and brief, small tornados near the coast. 

Dangerous marine conditions with seas peaking between 13 and 22 feet are forecast from Tuesday through Friday. The biggest surf will hit west-facing shores with waves between 7 and 14 feet in L.A. and Ventura counties through Thursday.  

“Sunday could be about the only break in the wet conditions as there is yet another storm system on the horizon possibly as soon Monday or Tuesday next week,” the NWS said.