Parched parts of bone-dry California are getting washed out Friday by a powerful Pacific storm that has lashed the state with rain and heavy winds.
Thousands were without power and the threat of dangerous mudslides loomed as authorities in some suburban Los Angeles communities ordered mandatory evacuations as a precaution.
About an inch of rain had already fallen on Thursday morning in the Los Angeles area, and now this latest wave could drop up to an inch of rain per hour Friday morning.
The storm isn't expected to move out until Saturday, forecasters warn. Los Angeles has now seen about 2.6 inches of rain in the past three days — more rain than the area has seen in the last 13 months combined.
"We will see significant rain and that will cause mud and debris flows, especially down the sides of the mountains where there have been wildfires and burn areas," said Weather Channel forecaster Michael Palmer. "It will be fairly prolonged period of rainfall for about 48 hours."
Gale warnings were in place for much of the California coast, according to the National Weather Service, and high wind warnings and wind advisories were also in effect across much of the state, Palmer said.
Peak wind gusts clocked in at 60 mph in parts of Los Angeles County and 50 mph in San Luis Obispo County on Thursday night. By Friday morning, about 26,000 utility customers in California were without power.
The winds "will gust generally 30 to 40 mph from Los Angeles all the way up to San Francisco, but once you get into the foothills and the higher terrain they will see winds gusting up to 80 mph," Palmer said.
The region has been under a flash flood advisory, and some streets were closed in anticipation of turning into muddy rivers, according to NBC Los Angeles. A nine-mile stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway has been shut down until at least noon PT (3 p.m. ET) Friday because of the potential for rock and mudslides.
In one harrowing rescue Friday morning, emergency crews saved a man and two dogs as they held onto a tree at the basin of the Los Angeles River, NBC Los Angeles reported.
Elsewhere in California, heavy snowfall is expected in the Sierra Nevada. Around San Francisco Bay, the storm led to an urban and small stream flood warning, as rain in excess of a half-inch an hour moved in, according to forecasts. Wet roadways and crashes slowed the morning commute, and there were isolated power outages.
Some arriving flights at San Francisco International Airport were delayed by more than four hours Friday morning, according to FlightAware.com.
There were also reports of drivers leaving behind their vehicles as the waters rose quickly in some areas.
Driver Salvador Garcia said he was stranded in about four feet of standing water in San Jose when he failed to realize the depth, NBC Bay Area reported. A 911 dispatcher told him to say in his car, he said, but he opted out.
"The water just started flooding in," he told the station. "The last thing I was going to do was stay in there."
Meanwhile, cities in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties were handing out sandbags in anticipation of heavy rain expected to pummel their communities.
Even waterspouts offshore and small tornados were possible, the weather service said.
California's rain totals are far below normal and it will take a series of drenching storms to make a dent in a statewide drought that is among the worst in recent history.
The state Department of Water Resources took a new survey of the Sierra Nevada snowpack on Thursday and found the water content at only 24 percent of average for the date. The northern and central Sierra snowpack normally provides about a third of the water used by California's cities and farms.
Farmer Ray Gene Veldhuis, who grows almonds, walnuts and pistachios and runs a 2,300-cow dairy in the Central Valley's Merced County, welcomed the wet weather but doubted it will rescue California from drought.
"This is actually getting back to normal rather than being abnormal," Veldhuis said in an interview Thursday. "It's kind of a blessing. Hopefully, they keep coming. If not, we'll deal with the hand we're dealt."