Holiday travelers in Southern California were hit with a blustery winter storm Thursday that saw the shutdown of major highways and at least one death as forecasters now warn that the system is picking up strength as it heads to the Central Plains and Upper Midwest.
A 60-year-old woman died in San Diego County at around 6:50 a.m after the vehicle she was a passenger in lost control and veered off the road into an embankment.
The victim, who was not wearing a seatbelt and in the back seat, was thrown forward into the windshield and pronounced dead on the scene, California Highway Patrol Officer Jeff Christy told FOX5. He said that the accident was a result of fresh snow and high speeds but noted that the investigation is still ongoing.
Traffic was at a standstill after heavy snowfall shut down the busy Interstate 5 in Tejon Pass through the mountains north of Los Angeles and stopped traffic on Interstate 15 over Cajon Pass in the inland region to the east.
A truck driver was also found unresponsive in a rig stopped along the I-5. He was pronounced dead by Kern County firefighters, although it was not immediately known if the death was weather-related.
I-15 finally reopened in both directions in the afternoon but then authorities later shut down about 45 miles of the freeway from Baker, California, to Primm, Nevada, on the way to Las Vegas because of snow and ice.
Mount High Resort, which sits at an elevation of 8,200 feet just 80 miles east of Los Angeles, saw the most snow, with up to 36 inches in some areas at around 7 p.m. Thursday, the National Weather Service said.
Other nearby areas saw anywhere between 8 and 23 inches of total snowfall. Similar numbers were seen in San Diego County.
Residents in Ventura Harbor even experienced a brief tornado, which took down at least 5 trees with wind gusts of up to 85 mph Wednesday night, the National Weather Service reported.
As residents in Southern California deal with the freezing temperatures left in the wake of the storm, forecasters warned residents across the Central Plains and Upper Midwest to brace for “heavy snow” and “freezing rain” over the weekend as the system moves east.
The area surrounding San Luis Valley Regional Airport is expected to see 13 inches of snow on Friday alone with a wind chill of -10 degrees and gusts of up to 30 mph.
Parts of central Nebraska were issued a similar warning until Sunday evening with forecasters warning of freezing rain and significant snow.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.