Downed tree kills man at Yosemite as storm hits CA

A pair of winter storms bringing rain and snow swept across California on Saturday, buffeting Yosemite National Park with strong wind gusts that toppled a tree and killed a park employee.

A branch of the huge tree fell and killed Ryan Hiller as the 27-year-old from North Carolina lay in his tent cabin in an employee housing area, park spokesman Scott Gediman said.

Hiller, of Chapel Hill, N.C., had worked as a park ranger during busy periods for about five years. He was working for a park concessioner and staying in the Yosemite Valley stable complex while waiting for the winter ski season.

Gediman said Hiller as a ranger worked in the Yosemite wilderness and at the park's famed Half Dome mountain, where he often helped in search-and-rescue efforts. “He was a very skilled ranger,” Gediman said. “It's a horrible, horrible thing.”

Winds knocked down many large trees at the park, but no other injuries have been reported, Gediman said.

The same storm caused minor flooding in Northern California and was likely to bring rainfall to the San Francisco 49ers NFC Championship game against the New York Giants on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

To the south, winds downed power lines and poles in Santa Barbara and desert cities like Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Joshua Tree, leaving about 25,000 customers without power, Southern California Edison said in a statement.

In the Los Angeles area, less than an inch of rain fell in downtown Los Angeles but slightly more was reported in the surrounding mountains and along the beaches. The California Highway Patrol blamed the weather for a sharp increase in crashes on Los Angeles County freeways. Officers investigated 315 wrecks by 9 a.m., up from the 55 wrecks reported on dry roadways during the same period last weekend.

Multi-car wrecks closed lanes on several roadways, including the high-traffic Pasadena Freeway north of downtown Los Angeles where a crash injured three people. The multilevel interchange of the 210, 134 and 710 freeways in Pasadena was snarled by flooding or crashes.

Utility officials said downed power lines caused scattered and brief electricity outages in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Malibu.

Near San Diego, play was suspended at the PGA Tour's Humana Challenge in La Quinta after winds damaged all three courses where the tournament is played. Gusts of 35 mph knocked over a large scoreboard, wrecked an awning in the spectator area and sent golf balls off the greens.

No one was injured, and the tournament was scheduled to resume early Sunday.

Winds were even stronger in the mountains and deserts of San Diego County, where winds in excess of 60 mph were reported, including a gust of 74 mph in Borrego Springs, the weather service said. Similar gusts were reported in the Antelope Valley in northern Los Angeles County, where gusts kicked up dust that made for zero visibility at times in the city of Lancaster.

An advisory warning of high winds that was set to expire at 7 p.m. was extended to midnight in several mountain areas, including the Interstate 5 corridor leading out of Los Angeles into central California.

Forecasters said a second storm accompanied by a cold front will sweep through Southern California late Sunday into early Monday. Further north, a winter weather advisory remained in effect for towns near Eureka and in the northern Sierras.

More significant snowfall was expected in the central and southern Sierras, with up to two feet of snow expected between Sunday evening and Monday afternoon. The Mammoth Mountain Ski Area resort received “long awaited and much needed” snow between Friday night and Saturday morning, when 17 inches fell, spokeswoman Joani Lynch said.

“It's heavy and wet. It's a great base maker,” she said.

The resort expected to open all its slopes by the end of the week. Before the storm, only about 30 percent of the area available for skiing was open, as the resort had to rely on man-made snow, Lynch said.


Associated Press writers Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, John Marshall in San Francisco and Greg Beacham in La Quinta contributed to this report.

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