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California Storm Threatens To Soak Coachella (VIDEO)

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LOS ANGELES — A powerful spring storm that zapped an airliner with lightning in San Francisco moved across California on Friday, threatening the state with thunderstorms, hail, fierce winds and blinding snow flurries in the mountains.

Drivers making practice runs zipped around a wet track as the three-day Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach began.

That didn't bother IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe.

"I love driving in the rain," he said. "Growing up karting in Canada, the beginning and end of every one of my seasons was a lot of rain. ... It's a completely different challenge. The limits are so much lower, but the penalties of going beyond those limits are so much higher."

Driving a race car full-out on a slick track requires being much gentler with the brakes and throttle.

"It's like driving on egg shells the entire time," Hinchcliffe said.

In Riverside County, there was a possibility of blustery conditions for thousands of fans attending Friday afternoon's start of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The National Weather Service warned of high winds in desert areas including the Coachella Valley through Saturday morning, with areas of blowing sand and overnight thunderstorms.

Orange County firefighters successfully rescued five people from rain-engorged creeks, including a homeless man who was swept about two miles down a Stanton creek before firefighters found him hanging on to a rock at about 1:45 p.m. Friday.

With the aid of a helicopter, firefighters rescued four more men near the Verizon Amphitheater in Irvine after contractors tried to drive through a flooded creek and were stranded.

A waterspout, which is a tornado that occurs over water, was also spotted off the coast of San Clemente on Friday afternoon.

Bands of thunderstorms rolled through the northern and central areas of the state Friday morning, but the weather was expected to clear in the afternoon as the front headed south and east, the weather service said.

As much as 14 inches of new snow was expected in the southern mountains, dropping at elevations as low as 3,500 feet and posing a risk to travel over high mountain passes north and east of Los Angeles.

A few inches of snowfall Wednesday night and Friday's dump brought a brief extension of the skiing and snowboarding season at resorts in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles.

Closed since Monday, Mountain High at Wrightwood planned to reopen for the weekend as the "last hoorah" of the season, said John McColly, vice president of sales and marketing. There would be no further extensions because the sun is rising too high in the sky for spring snow to last very long, he said.

To the east, Snow Summit at Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardinos said on its website that it would consider staying open past Sunday. Snow Valley ski area planned to be open through Tuesday.

Offshore, increasing northwest winds were expected to reach gale-force over the southern waters Friday night and Saturday, and small-craft advisories were posted for many areas.

The storm began drenching the San Francisco Bay area Thursday night, knocking out power and producing 750 lightning strikes through early Friday morning. A bolt hit the tower of the new Bay Bridge, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, and struck a United Airlines flight that had left San Francisco for London. The plane, which was carrying about 200 passengers, returned safely.

New rainfall records were set in several northern and central cities.

A high-pressure ridge will build over the state beginning Sunday, which should make for dry and warming conditions through the early part of the week, the weather service said.

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AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer in Long Beach contributed to this report.This photo shows nine bolts of lightning striking San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.


Phil McGrew/North News

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