Weather service issues rare tornado warning for N. California’s Contra Costa County

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Officials issue rare Bay area tornado warning

SAN FRANCISCO — The National Weather Service has issued a rare tornado warning for Northern California’s Contra Costa County after a trained weather spotter reported seeing a funnel cloud.

The weather service says the cloud was seen about 9 miles south of Oakley and could touch down in a rural area of the east San Francisco Bay-area county.

It’s the second time in a week that a tornado warning has been issued. The first was issued Wednesday for Santa Clara county.

The weather service urged people to go to a basement or interior hallway or room and lie down.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

SEAL BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The sky was blue and the sun bright for the first time in days after a week of powerful Southern California rain storms, but all Victoria Macey could see was the mountain of steaming trash and twisted debris on her favorite beach.

“I’m completely shocked. From our house, all we could see was gorgeous clouds and then we come down here and there’s so much trash, it’s really sad,” Macey said as she photographed a sopping plastic baby doll propped atop an overturned end table. “I can’t believe how many shopping carts there are. That’s what blows my mind.”

The mounds of soggy sofa cushions, rusted shopping carts, plastic children’s toys, dented refrigerators and hundreds of plastic cans and food wrappers were just one calling card left by a week of punishing rain that pelted Southern California and went on to tangle with Arizona and New Mexico.

On Saturday, hundreds of residents who evacuated from wildfire-scarred communities in the San Gabriel Mountain foothills north of Los Angeles returned home to assess the damage and remove mud and debris from their properties. There were no reports of major damage despite widespread concerns about mudslides and debris flows from the relentless rain.

And still, the storm was not done as it swept east into Arizona and New Mexico.

About half the 500 residents of a small western Arizona farming community were evacuated by tractors, boats and buses after floodwaters swept through the town Thursday. Pools of water, muddied streets and damaged homes and businesses remained after a wash that runs through Wenden flooded.

Some homes had up to a foot of water, and residents were awaiting word on whether they could return, La Paz County sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Glenn Gilbert said Saturday. American Red Cross spokeswoman Tracey Kiest said about 100 people stayed at shelters overnight Friday.

At higher elevations, forecasters warned of blowing and drifting snow and issued winter weather and wind advisories for southern New Mexico, with heavy snow expected in the Gila and Sacramento mountains. In the Guadalupe Mountains of southeastern New Mexico, wind gusts could top 90 mph on Saturday. More than 2 feet of snow have fallen in the Chama area in northern New Mexico, while parts of southwestern New Mexico got 27 inches of snow.

Interstates closed in northern Arizona were open to traffic Saturday morning.

Harsh winter weather also hit the Dakotas, where thousands of people were without power after icy weather toppled miles of power lines. A winter storm carrying freezing rain and snow pushed through the region with blizzardlike conditions expected to develop over the weekend and into Monday.

Another smaller storm was forecast for Southern California beginning Tuesday evening and would last about two days, said National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Vanderburg.

But that storm was the farthest thing from the minds of weather-weary Southern Californians, who ventured to the region’s famous beaches by the dozens on Saturday to bask in the sunshine and balmy temperatures. Many were shocked to find the trash from the storm’s urban run-off and picked gingerly through tangled garbage to reach the water.

Fifty-two cities in the Los Angeles metropolitan area drain into the San Gabriel River bed and litter and garbage flow tens of miles to the ocean each time there’s a heavy rain, said Kim Masoner, who founded Save Our Beach 10 years ago to combat the problem. Earlier, the couple worked with more than 1,400 volunteers to remove 12 large trash bins of debris from the river’s mouth.

On Saturday, Steve Masoner pulled a waist-high white plastic rocking horse from the mess and propped it on the rocks lining the river mouth. His wife added a soggy Spiderman doll and a cracked SpongeBob SquarePants bike helmet and a swimming pool skimmer to the pile before helping her husband wrestle apart two shopping carts.

Similar scenes played out on beaches in Long Beach, Newport Beach and San Diego where the Los Angeles, Santa Ana and Tijuana rivers empty into the sea. Many surfers said they would avoid the water because of concerns about bacteria from storm run-off.

Meanwhile, the Surfrider Foundation canceled its beach cleanups through the end of the month near the Tijuana River because the hazardous waste created too much of a liability.

“Even if they do have gloves and masks, it’s too dangerous,” Dan Murphy, of Surfrider, said of the beach volunteers. “Whatever the trash is on the beach, it’s been flowing in the sewage and it’s covered with the stuff.”

Associated Press writers contributing to this report include Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff and Jacques Billeaud and Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix.

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