by michelle rindels associated press
The Western U.S. has been drenched by a powerful storm system that blasted several states and has led to four deaths.
The fierce weather has prompted flooding and water rescues in California, stranded dozens of drivers in Nevada, caused hundreds of crashes among desert dwellers in Arizona and brought snow to northern New Mexico.
The system was expected to head east and reach the Atlantic coast by the middle of next week, but not before hitting the Southwest again with rain, snow and wind, forecasters said.
In California, the storms were linked to three deaths. In Oakland, one person was found dead near downed power lines and another crashed his vehicle into a tree while apparently trying to avoid debris in the road, news reports and officials said. Also, a 52-year-old woman died in Yuba County, north of Sacramento, when a tree fell on the parked car in which she was sitting.
In Southern California, a homeless man had to be rescued from a tree by helicopter and four others were plucked from an island after becoming trapped in the swollen Santa Ana River in San Bernardino County.
In Nevada, snow in higher elevations in rural, eastern Lincoln County stranded 50 to 60 cars early Friday, dispatcher Shannon Miller said. No injuries were reported, but U.S. 93 was closed south of Ely. Sheriff's dispatch said early Saturday that the roadway had been reopened, but the office did not have any information on the stranded cars.
In Arizona, firefighters in Tucson on Friday recovered the body of a man who was swept away by high water in the Santa Cruz River. Meanwhile, authorities across the state responded to hundreds of vehicle crashes as the storm dropped rain on typically dry roads.
A flood watch was in effect until early Saturday in the Phoenix area, where several miles of the Loop 303 freeway in the western suburbs were closed due to flooding. The weather service said rain totals through Saturday morning could exceed 2 inches in the Phoenix area.
The wet conditions prompted the Arizona Interscholastic Association to push back high school football playoff games set for Friday and Saturday. Officials rescheduled the games to Monday "due to the weather conditions, field conditions and safety of the players and fans attending the games."
In New Mexico, snow and ice packed roads in the northern part of the state, but forecasters say the latest storm is far from over. The National Weather Service in Albuquerque said the brunt of the storm is expected to cross into New Mexico on Saturday, bringing widespread snow through the rest of the weekend, frigid temps and gusty winds.
In northern Utah, transportation officials warned truck drivers of potential trailer-toppling gusts. No accidents had been reported, but big rigs pulled off to the side of the freeways to wait out the winds Friday morning, Utah Highway Patrol officials told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Forecasters said parts of both California and Arizona can also expect more severe weather with winter storm warnings through midday Saturday in the mountains and the Antelope Valley foothills northeast of Los Angeles. However, there's only a small chance of rainstorms like those that prompted flooding in California on Thursday.
At least one business in thirsty southern Nevada was rejoicing over the storm system. Officials at the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort north of Sin City measured 11 1/2 inches of snow at midday Friday, with a week to spare until opening day.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco, Paul Davenport in Phoenix, and Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque.