Thunderstorms, lightning hit Southern California

A woman and two dogs were fatally struck by lightning Wednesday morning in Pico Rivera as thunderstorms battered Southern California, prompting authorities to temporarily close beaches and maintain high alert for fires sparked by the rays.

The woman and her two dogs died while walking along a riverbed trail shortly before 9 a.m. as severe weather concentrated in southeast Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Sheriff Sgt. Patrick said. Morey, in command of the Pico Rivera sector.

“There’s a one in a million chance something like that would happen and it did,” Morey said.

Parts of Southern California were lashed by thunder, lightning, rain, high winds and even hail overnight and early Wednesday as monsoon moisture moved through the region.

Lightning strikes the ocean near a lifesaving tower on Bolsa Chica State Beach during a storm Monday.

The National Weather Service issued special weather advisories Wednesday morning for parts of the region warning of rain, possible lightning, high winds and thunder.

While rains and storms have been more severe in northern and eastern Los Angeles County, extreme weather has impacted the region from western Orange County, where Newport Beach temporarily closed beaches early in the Wednesday due to lightning, to central Ventura County, where firefighters were responding to two brush fires.

Newport Beach reopened its beaches starting at 10:45 a.m.

Rain and storms were scattered, hitting areas including Long Beach, downtown Los Angeles, Glendale, the western San Gabriel Valley and the Antelope Valley.

“We had a pretty active night last night, and it continues this morning,” said Ryan Kittell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. “Any of these storms could produce a lot of lightning, and we’ve already seen some strong gusts of wind. … We’ve had a few reports of coin-sized hail.”

He said wind gusts were reported at 66 mph just west of Lancaster, and hail was reported in Camarillo and Pasadena overnight.

Officials urged people to exercise more caution during the morning commute as the weather continued.

Cerritos College in Norwalk announced it closed the campus Wednesday after a lightning strike and subsequent campus-wide power outage, one of many power outages across the region.

“Brief heavy showers, small hail and strong gusts of wind are expected during the early morning hours,” the NWS said in a statement.

Kittell said lightning remains the biggest concern, especially “dry lightning,” which can strike already dry ground, becoming a major fire threat.

“In the last hour we’ve had 208 lightning strikes strike the ground in Los Angeles County,” Kittell said around 8 a.m. Wednesday. She said the agency recorded another 350 lightning strikes that remained in the clouds, totaling “quite a lot of lightning” in the area.

“Lightning is a good source of fires and the environment is quite conducive to fire right now,” Kittell said. He said Wednesday morning that the threat of “dry lightning” remains high, and there have been a few reports of power poles being hit and minor fires, but all have been manageable so far.

Storms began moving into central California mid-morning Wednesday, with National Weather Service officials warning that Kern County could see the most severe storms. But in Fresno early Wednesday, officials responded to a wildfire sparked by a thunderstorm, the Fresno Bee reported. But it has already been contained.

Kittell said the afternoon should bring more moisture with thunderstorms, which should lessen the threat of those dry lightning strikes.

Officials urged campers and others who like to enjoy the outdoors to seek shelter from thunder and lightning and to watch for fires.

Much of the area had not seen significant rain as of Wednesday morning, mostly below a quarter inch, but some spots that saw the heaviest downpours, such as north of Burbank, near Lancaster and west of The Mount had more than half an inch, according to reports from the National Weather Service.

The Los Angeles area has a 50% chance of showers Wednesday with highs near 90 degrees.

Officials said mountain and desert areas could see more extreme weather through the afternoon.

Kittell said the monsoonal moisture, which is brought in from the south by a reversal in wind direction – caused Wednesday by a low-pressure system northwest of Los Angeles – usually only occurs a few times a year, usually in July or August.

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