LOS ANGELES - A major winter storm moved across the Pacific Ocean into Northern California on Wednesday and was expected to pummel the state with torrential rainfall, high winds and dangerous heavy surf over the next few days, the National Weather Service said.
Authorities issued flood warnings, high surf and wind advisories ahead of the storm and said they feared that predicted heavy showers could cause mudslides in wildfire scarred foothills across the state.
"As far as serious debris flows this is probably the biggest threat we've seen so far this winter on the burn areas, just because the rainfall has the potential to be so intense in such a short period of time. That's what we've seen in the past is most conducive to debris flows," National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Jackson said.
A winter storm that moved through Southern California last week, the first of the season, brought record-breaking amounts of rain to some communities but that rain was not as intense, falling over a longer period of time, Jackson said.
During the brunt of the current storm, which was expected to hit Central California on Thursday evening and Southern California on Friday morning, forecasters were expecting 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) of rainfall on coastlines and inland valleys and up to 4 inches (10 cm) in mountain areas.
Heavier surf was already being seen on state beaches on Wednesday afternoon and forecasters said some local sets could hit 25 feet (7.6 meters) along the Central California coast, with 8 to 12 foot (2.4 to 3.6 meters) waves in Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
Authorities issued advisories for residents to stay off jetties, piers and rocks to avoid getting washed into the surf.
"It's common sense. If you look out and the surf looks like a gigantic washing machine, most people know they shouldn't go in there," Jackson said. "Once you're in the water it's very difficult to control your fate."
California has been in the grip of a record-shattering, multi-year drought that has forced officials to sharply reduce water supplies to farms and prompted drastic conservation measures statewide.
Jackson said the storm would provide some small measure of relief to the state but that it would not end the drought on its own. "Certainly these storms don't hurt," he said. "But to really make a significant dent in the drought, we need numerous storms over several months at least."