- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) | A winter storm that could be the largest of the season blanketed California with heavy rain and snow Monday, forcing the closure of a major highway and the cancellation of the final round of a national golf tournament.

The storm stretched from the Mexican border up to Washington state and was expected to last through Tuesday afternoon, said Stan Wasowski, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in San Diego.

He said the rain clouds extended several hundred miles off the Pacific coast.

“This one here is hitting the entire state,” he said.

Heavy snow forced the closure of a 50-mile stretch of Interstate 5 in both directions in the mountains north of Los Angeles. The roadway is the region’s main north-south artery.

“We don’t see it opening anytime soon,” said David Porter, a California Highway Patrol officer.

In Northern California, a flood advisory was issued for the San Francisco Bay Area and a flash-flood watch was in effect for much of California’s Central Coast, where flooded greens forced the cancellation of the AT&T; Pebble Beach National Pro-Am’s final round.

The PGA Tour declared Dustin Johnson the winner after he built a four-shot lead Saturday before the rain began.

In the San Diego area, firefighters made rescues after floodwaters overtook two vehicles just before noon. No injuries were reported in either incident.

In Southern California, small-stream flood advisories were issued for several counties. Accidents in rain-soaked areas forced the shutdown of freeway lanes including parts of busy Interstate 405, backing up holiday-morning traffic.

Rain brought renewed fears of mudslides in areas ravaged by wildfires last year. The eastern Los Angeles County city of Sierra Madre has warned residents that they may need to leave their homes, and a voluntary evacuation order was in effect early Monday.

Cyclists competing in the Tour of California were set to get drenched for a second day as the race crosses the Golden Gate Bridge en route from Sausalito to Santa Cruz. Lance Armstrong finished among the leaders in the tour’s opening stage Sunday.

In the Sierra Nevada, heavy snows forced motorists to don tire chains to navigate steep mountain passes. The weather was a boon for Lake Tahoe resorts, where skiers and snowboarders were enjoying heaps of fresh powder.

A series of storms has dumped as much as 7 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada over the past week.

In the Lake Tahoe region, forecasters said another 3 feet could accumulate by early Tuesday at the higher elevations.

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