The remains of two dogs are removed from the scene where a woman and her two dogs were killed by a lightning strike along the San Gabriel River & Bike Trail in Pico Rivera. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times)
A woman and two dogs were fatally struck by lightning Wednesday morning in Pico Rivera as thunderstorms pounded Southern California, prompting officials to temporarily close beaches and keep high alert for fires sparked by dry lightning.
The woman and her two dogs were killed while walking along a riverbed path just before 9 a.m., as severe weather moved into the Southeast Los Angeles region, said L.A. County Sheriff’s Sgt. Patrick Morey, the field sergeant for Pico Rivera.
“There’s a one-in-a-million chance of something like this happening and it happened,” Morey said. He said he did not immediately have additional details about the incident or woman but said deputies continue investigating.
Parts of Southern California were hit by thunder, lightning, rain, heavy winds and even hail overnight and into Wednesday as monsoonal moisture moved through the region.
The National Weather Service issued special weather advisories Wednesday morning and into the afternoon for several parts of the region, warning people to take extra caution and seek shelter when severe weather arises. About 1:30 p.m., the weather service issued a flood advisory for the eastern Antelope Valley region, especially near Pearblossom, warning of heavy rains through 3:30 p.m.
A lightning bolt is seen in this screen-grab from video in Whittier on Wednesday morning. (Raul Roa/Los Angeles Times)
Though the rainfall and storms have been most severe in north and east Los Angeles County, extreme weather has affected the region from west Orange County, where Newport Beach temporarily closed beaches early Wednesday because of lightning, into central Ventura County, where firefighters were responding to at least two brush fires in the area of recent storms, and farther north.
Newport Beach reopened its beaches as of 10:45 a.m.
The cells of rain and storms were scattered, hitting such areas as Long Beach, downtown L.A., Glendale, the western San Gabriel Valley and Antelope Valley.
“We had quite an active night last night, and it’s continuing this morning,” said Ryan Kittell, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. “Any of these storms could produce a lot of lightning, and we’ve seen some gusty winds already. … We’ve had some reports of pea-sized hail.”
He said that wind gusts were recorded at 66 mph just west of Lancaster and that hail had been reported in Camarillo and Pasadena overnight, and more could come during the day.
Cerritos College in Norwalk announced it closed campus Wednesday after a lightning strike and a subsequent campus-wide power outage, one of many scattered power outages throughout the region.
Kittell said lightning remains the largest concern, especially “dry lightning,” which can hit the already-dry ground without much rain, becoming a huge fire threat.
“In the last hour we’ve had 208 lightning strikes that have hit the ground in Los Angeles County,” Kittell said at about 8 a.m. Wednesday. He said the agency recorded an additional 350 lightning strikes that remained in the clouds, totaling “quite a bit of lightning” in the area.
“Lightning is a very good fire-starting source and the environment is pretty ripe for fire right now,” Kittell said. He said Wednesday morning that the threat for “dry lightning” remains high and the agency has trackedsome reports of struck power poles and minor fires, but all have been manageable so far.
Firefighters in the Angeles National Forest responded to numerous reports of smoke from lightning strikes, officials reported, but crews contained any flames.
The storms began to expand into Central California by midmorning Wednesday, with National Weather Service officials warning Kern County could see the most severe thunderstorms for that region. In Fresno early Wednesday, officials responded to a wildfire sparked by a thunderstorm, the Fresno Bee reported. It’s since been contained.
Kittell did say that the afternoon should bring more moisture with the storms, which should lessen the threat of dry lightning.
Officials urged campers and others outdoors to seek shelter when lightning and thunder hit and to be on the lookout for fires.
The storms, though, haven’t brought significant rainfall to the region, with most areas recording less than a quarter-inch by midday Wednesday, but some spots with the heaviest downpours — north of Burbank, near Lancaster and west of El Monte — recorded closer to a half-inch, according to National Weather Service reports.
Kittell said the monsoonal moisture is the culmination of other pressure systems in the region switching the wind’s direction, pulling up tropical moisture from Mexico. A low-pressure system northwest of Los Angeles has shifted the wind’s direction — typically blowing west to east but now moving south to north.
He said the weather pattern usually happens only a few times a year, typically not until July or August.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.