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California storm brings power outages, shuts down highway

California Department of Transportation crews work to clear mud and rocks that tumbled onto a Highway in Malibu, California on Jan. 6, 2019. (Caltrans via AP)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Utility crews worked Monday to restore power to thousands of people after a winter storm swept through Northern California, toppling utility poles and trees and prompting the temporary closure of a major highway.

Strong winds and downed trees knocked out electricity for nearly 90,000 customers across the Sacramento region Sunday night. By Monday morning, 13,000 customers still had no power.

In Oregon and Washington, tens of thousands of people remained without power after windstorms struck parts the northwest over the weekend.

Interstate 80 from Placer County in California to the state line with Nevada reopened Monday but it remained closed in Nevada’s Washoe County, the California Transportation Department said.

Officials shut down the highway Sunday after the snowstorm reached the Lake Tahoe area as weekend visitors were leaving.

The National Weather Service on Monday issued a winter storm warning for areas in the Sierra Nevada above 1,200 meters, saying snowy and gusty conditions will limit visibility.

Over three days 1.37 meters of snow accumulated at the summit of Mammoth Mountain, 240 kilometres south of Tahoe, the resort said Monday. More than 30 centimetres fell in the upper elevations around Tahoe, including 48 centimetres at Squaw Valley.

Up to 13 centimetres of rain fell in some Northern California coastal and valley areas, while mountain communities got heavy snow.

A new wet system is expected in the region on Tuesday night, but it won’t be as intense but two more powerful storms are expected over the weekend, National Weather Service forecaster Emily Heller said.

In Southern California, light to moderate rain fell early Monday as a second system followed heavy Saturday night downpours that unleashed massive mudflows from the fire-scarred Santa Monica Mountains onto Pacific Coast Highway.

Cleanup work kept about 21 kilometres of the scenic highway closed from western Malibu to Ventura County. Caltrans said the closure might last into Tuesday.

While the latest rain was modest, powerful winds swept the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles early Monday because of a so-called mountain wave — southwesterly winds rising up and over the San Gabriel Mountains and then plunging down into the high desert. The National Weather Service said a 78 mph (125 kph) gust was recorded at Lake Palmdale.

In the northwest, about 49,000 Puget Sound Energy customers in Oregon and Washington remained without power Monday morning. Crews had restored power to 255,000 customers since the height of the storm. Seattle City Light had approximately 500 customers without power as of Monday morning, KOMO reported .

In Oregon the lights were back on for most people.

The storm caused Alaska Airlines to ground all its flights between 4:20 a.m. and 5:15 a.m. Sunday after a power outage in the Seattle area, where its operations are based. Twenty-seven flights were delayed and five were cancelled.

The National Weather Service reported winds included gusts of more than 95 kph at the storm’s peak Saturday night and early Sunday morning.