- Associated Press - Saturday, December 24, 2016

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A powerful storm forced the closure of Interstate 5 in Southern California on Saturday and made December the wettest month in downtown Los Angeles in six years.

The state’s main north-south freeway was closed in both directions in the Grapevine area north of Los Angeles for nearly four hours due to snow, said California Highway Patrol Lt. Sven Miller. Motorists were directed to alternate routes, complicating travel plans the day before Christmas.

The National Weather Service said 1½ inches of rain hit downtown Los Angeles, lifting this month’s total rainfall above 4 inches. That’s nearly twice the normal rainfall in December and marks the wettest month since December 2010, when more than 10 inches of rain fell.

By midmorning, the rain abated and Interstate 5 reopened but winds gusted to 45 mph and more snow was expected in higher elevations.

About 2 inches of snow was reported in the Grapevine area, a mountainous region about 75 miles north of downtown Los Angeles on Interstate 5, said National Weather Service meteorologist Robbie Munroe. The CHP reported several collisions and trucks stuck in snow. Traffic was snarled well after the road reopened.

Other sections of the Southern California coast also got soaked, with Orange County getting nearly 2 inches of rain since the storm began Friday and San Diego getting about 1 inch, Munroe said.

The eastern San Gabriel Mountains got up to 16 inches of snow.

After five years of drought, California has seen improvement lately as storms have moved through the state.

Now, 15 percent of the state - the north coast and part of the far northern interior - are free of drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. About 60 percent of the state remains in the three worst levels of drought - severe, extreme and exceptional.

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