California hit with rare blizzard warning in latest extreme weather

Snowflakes seen near Hollywood sign above Los Angeles, as storm causes major disruptions across the state

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An exceptional winter storm in California brought snow to coastal hills that rarely see it, shut major motorways near Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, and knocked out power to more than 110,000 homes and businesses.

The sprawling storm dropped snow near sea level along the state’s far northern coast while triggering the San Diego area’s first ever blizzard warning near the Mexican border.

Snow or graupel — water droplets freezing on snowflakes as they descend — fell near the landmark Hollywood sign above Los Angeles, the National Weather Service reported.

The agency warned of a “cold and dangerous winter storm” that would last through Saturday.

The highest mountains north of Los Angeles were forecast to get as much as two metres of snow. San Francisco Bay Area peaks received a dusting, while lower elevations received cold rain, punctuated with lightning and hail.

“Simply put, this will be a historic event for the amount of snow over the higher peaks and lower elevation snow,” the regional weather office said.

As many Californians rushed to take photos of the rare weather, the storm caused major disruptions across the state.

Heavy snows shut down Interstate 5 in the Grapevine, a mountain pass connecting the Los Angeles area with the Central Valley. Interstate 80 near Lake Tahoe also closed, as did Highway 17, which links coastal Santa Cruz to Silicon Valley.

In other parts of the country, storms led to pile-ups and road closures, shuttered schools and snarled air travel.

More than 300 flights were cancelled and about 3,000 were delayed as of midday on Friday, according to FlightAware.

All told, the storms have caused blackouts for nearly one million homes and businesses from coast to coast.

Updated: February 24, 2023, 11:01 PM