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Snow slams highway north of LA, strands hundreds

The Canadian Press
February 20, 2013 — Winter storm brings rare tornado to Northern California and dumps heavy snow on mountain highways.

Heavy snow left hundreds stranded on mountain highways Tuesday
Heavy snow left hundreds stranded on mountain highways Tuesday

A winter storm brought California much-needed rain and even a rare tornado, but the breadth and severity of snowfall in much of the state caught drivers by surprise and left hundreds stranded on mountain highways. 

A late barrage of snow forced the shutdown of a 100 km stretch of Highway 58 between Los Angeles and Bakersfield late Tuesday, California Highway Patrol Officer Ed Smith said. 

"Travel conditions deteriorated quickly," said Smith. "The freeways just aren't safe to pass on right now." 

The snow brought hundreds of vehicles to a stop and sent the patrol and road crews scrambling to the scene, where they were helping drivers to slowly exit near Tehachapi. 

No injuries were reported. 

A similar scene played out shortly about 480 km to the north, where dozens of cars were either stuck in the snow or involved in accidents near the rural community of Sonora. 

About 50 to 75 vehicles became stranded or were in collisions on Highway 49 and nearby roadways when it started snowing heavily in the Sierra Nevada foothills, said CHP Lt. Scott Clamp. 

"Travelers were just not prepared," Clamp said. 

There were a handful of minor injuries, but no major injuries, he said. 

The storm from the Gulf of Alaska brought the first significant rainfall to the region in several weeks, the National Weather Service said. 

Periodic showers, including hail, hit the Bay area in time for the morning commute, while new snow fell in the Sierra Nevada, where ski resorts around Lake Tahoe were expecting up 20 cm.

Flurries were spotted high in the hills in Oakland and in neighbouring Berkeley, said Rick Canepa, a weather service meteorologist in Monterey. 

The top of Mt. Hamilton near San Jose and the tips of Mt. Diablo in the East Bay also got a dusting.

In the Sacramento area, a tornado with wind speeds between 60-100 km/h was spotted north of Red Bluff shortly after 1:30 p.m., according to the weather service. It caused little or no damage.

More rain was forecast for the Bay area and for parts of Southern California.

Authorities warned of more hazardous conditions for drivers on mountain and interior valley roads into early Wednesday, when the storm was expected to move east.

With files from CNN 

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