LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Ferocious winds battered mountain and valley areas across the Southland today, dramatically raising the risk of wildfires and prompting precautionary power outages for thousands of residents, who were warned to be prepared to immediately evacuate if blazes erupt.
“A very strong and damaging northeast to east wind event will affect a large portion of Southwest California through Wednesday morning,'' according to the National Weather Service, which warned of “damaging'' 60 to 80 mph gusts in mountains, foothills and some valley locations.
“Isolated gusts as high as 90 mph are possible in the mountains of Los Angeles County,'' forecasters said. “Even coastal areas, including portions of the LA Basin, will see locally damaging wind gusts up to 65 mph.''
By mid-morning, the NWS had already recorded gusts topping 86 mph in some mountain areas, including Warm Springs and the Magic Mountain Truck Trail in northern Los Angeles County. Other parts of the Santa Clarita Valley were being hit with gusts topping 40 and 50 mph, as were select areas of the San Fernando Valley. Winds were also recorded near 50 mph in the Antelope Valley.
A red flag warning is in effect through 10 p.m. Tuesday for the Los Angeles County coastal and mountain regions and the Santa Clarita, San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys. A red flag warning will also be in effect during the same hours in inland Orange County, the Santa Ana Mountains and the Cleveland National Forest. Forecasters said foothill areas of the Santa Ana Mountains could see isolated wind gusts of 70 mph.
A high wind warning was also in effect until 6 p.m. Wednesday for Orange County coastal areas.
NWS forecasters noted that humidity levels are expected to be higher than usually seen during red flag conditions, but the ferocity of the winds and dry brush still warranted the red flag warning.
“Significant wind impacts will be likely with this event, including the threat of widespread downed trees and power lines, as well as power outages,'' according to the NWS. “Winds are then expected to diminish Thursday through next weekend. Although exact timing is not possible at the moment, rain is likely at times Friday and Saturday. There are also additional precipitation chances next week.''
The Los Angeles County and city fire departments were prepared up for the wind event, pre-deploying resources in critically endangered. The Los Angeles Fire Department stationed three task forces in the valleys, while the county fire department ordered “additional staffing and pre-deployment of resources throughout the county.''
Red flag parking restrictions took effect in the city of Los Angeles at 8 a.m. The restrictions bar residents from parking on streets in high fire-hazard zones to ensure fire crews can access hard-to-reach areas. The city of Pasadena imposed similar restrictions at noon, continuing through at least 7 a.m. Wednesday.
The county's Office of Emergency Management issued a statement Monday saying the agency will be on “high alert'' due to the wind and fire conditions. The agency's director, Kevin McGowan, urged residents to be prepared for dangerous conditions.
“Our emergency response officials are world-class and will stand ready to defend lives and property,'' he said. “But, we need collaboration from all residents who live in L.A. County to stay safe as a region. We must all do our part by staying informed and being ready to evacuate at a moment's notice, especially if you live in canyon, mountain or foothill communities.''
He urged residents to have an evacuation plan in place and be prepared by taking steps such as parking vehicles facing the street and on driveways -- not in garages that may not be accessible if electric garage-door openers become inoperable in an outage.
Residents were urged to identify which communication system is used by their local law enforcement agency for their neighborhood, at their workplace and other places that family members frequent. They were also urged to watch local newscasts and have a battery-operated radio handy to access news if the power goes out.
More preparedness tips are available at ready.lacounty.gov or by following @ReadyLACounty on Twitter or dialing 2-1-1.
The high winds also prompted Southern California Edison to impose Public Safety Power Shutoffs, in which electricity is turned off for customers in wind-prone areas to prevent the possibility of downed power lines sparking wildfires.
As of midday Tuesday, 15,070 SCE customers in Los Angeles County had their power shut off, while more than 70,000 customers in the county were under consideration for outages, along with 11,421 customers in Orange County.
A map of the utility's PSPS activity is available at www.sce.com/wildfire/psps.
The strong winds will be accompanied by a significant drop in temperatures, with highs in the 60s and lower 70s on Tuesday in greater Los Angeles and the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, but only reaching the upper 50s in the Santa Clarita Valley and in the upper 40s and 50s in the mountains and the Antelope Valley.
That's a marked change from the weekend, when some high temperature records were set in the Southland. Downtown Los Angeles set a new record for Jan. 16 with a high of 88 on Saturday, breaking the old record of 86 set in 1976.
A cold weather alert was issued for the Antelope Valley through Friday, and for the L.A. County mountains on Tuesday. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said below-freezing temperatures were expected in those areas overnight, and warned that “children, the elderly, and people with disabilities or special medical needs are especially vulnerable during cold weather. Extra precaution should be taken to ensure they don't get too cold when they are outside.''
Residents were also warned not to leave pets outside at night.
A high-surf advisory will be in effect at Los Angeles County beaches through 10 p.m. Tuesday.
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