California’s winter weather is being blamed for the deaths of four homeless people, the closure of major roads and serious losses for citrus farmer in the middle of a harvest.
The cold snap, part of a nationwide chill caused by a cold front from the Arctic, is expected to continue into the middle of this week in most areas. Rain, snow and snow flurries were expected through Saturday night, with sub-zero temperatures predicted overnight up and down the state.
“The cold snap is just beginning here in Los Angeles, but it’s pretty painful all across California,” said Bill Patzert, a climatologist with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge. “We’re getting this Arctic blast across the whole country.”
In Southern California, temperatures have plummeted to about 20 degrees below seasonal averages, with lows in the high 30s already and the possibility of freezing temperatures tonight in the San Gabriel Valley, Inland Empire, and San Fernando Valley. The higher elevations are even colder and Caltrans has closed lanes of Interstate 5 over the Grapevine in Tejon Pass due to snow and ice on the roads. It is unknown when the roadway, California’s main north-south artery, will be reopened.
In Northern California, officials reported three homeless people have died from exposure since Thursday, with another man having died on Thanksgiving. Scattered snow in the area is expected to stop Saturday night, followed by single-digit temperatures in some areas, according to Johnnie Powell, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.
Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are scrambling to warm their citrus orchards. With several consecutive days of freezing temperatures on tap, “significant” crop damage is expected, said David Spector, a weather service meteorologist in Hanford, Calif. The cold temperatures are expected to linger longer there, with freezing temperatures persisting until the end of the week, Spector said.
“For most people, this is an inconvenience, but this is very serious,” Patzert said.
The frigid turn is particularly dangerous for the homeless population, who are urged to shelter at missions and severe weather centers. The Los Angeles County Homeless Services authority has partnered with nonprofits to offer 1,491 beds at 13 shelter sites. Officials are also warning those with elderly friends or relatives to check that their homes are heated properly and to move their plants indoors.
A week from now, Southern California temperatures will be back in the 70s, Patzert predicted.