Storm bears down on California
Weather could trigger slides and flooding

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A fierce arctic storm pounded California on Friday, threatening to soak mudslide-prone canyons already charred by wildfires and to paralyze the mountains with deep snow.

Power already was knocked out to hundreds of thousands of residents, and the California Highway Patrol encouraged drivers to stay off the roads. Truckers were told to hunker down in blizzard-like conditions over mountain passes in the Sierra Nevada, and even some ski resorts closed.

'It's a whiteout here,' said Neil Erasmus, general manager of Ice Lake Lodge and Rainbow Lodge in Soda Springs. 'We're plowing and grooming, plowing and grooming to keep us from being buried in.'

Forecasters said the mountains could see 10 feet of snow total from the trio of storms that was expected through the weekend. The sprawling, swirling system spanned the length of the West Coast.

Winds howled in the mountain areas, gusting up to 85 miles an hour, and in the Sacramento Valley, gusts topped 65 mph, the strongest in a decade.

Parts of highways from Sacramento to San Francisco were closed because debris blocked lanes. Ferry service in the San Francisco Bay was interrupted, as well.

'It isn't the weather that causes these collisions, it's the way people drive in them,' said Sgt. Les Bishop, a spokesman for California Highway Patrol. 'It's no secret that we've got a major storm rolling in, and it's everybody's responsibility to drive in a safe manner.'

Hundreds of thousands of residents lost power across Northern California, from the Bay Area to the Central Valley.

'Because of the strong winds and heavy rains, restoration is taking longer than normal,' said Darlene Chiu, a spokeswoman for Pacific Gas and Electric.

Homeowners rushed to stack sandbags around houses, and scurried to stock up on last-minute provisions.

'People were waiting in line for shopping carts,' said Barbara Sholle, of Mammoth Lakes. Sholle went to the supermarket after receiving a call from the eastern Sierra ski town's reverse-911 system. She waited an hour to pay for her groceries amid a crush of residents.

In Southern California, the storm was gathering strength off the coast and was expected to strike the region by mid-afternoon, National Weather Service forecaster Andrew Rorke said.

The storm was expected to pour up to 4 inches of rain overnight in Southern California's valleys, with 6 inches possible in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and up to 12 inches in the south-facing mountains from Ventura County south to San Diego.

'The last rain we had, it all went under my foundation and I don't like that. It was flowing under my house,' said Cindy Darling, a receptionist at the Lake Arrowhead Chamber of Commerce who got sandbags from the local fire department to put above her house. 'Everything up here's on a hill, so you have to do something.'