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'Like it had snowed': Southern California beachgoers having snowball fights after hailstorm

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LOS ANGELES — The beach at Southern California's "Surf City" turned white with hail as a storm roared ashore Monday behind a late-season winter blast that dropped snow and rain across the drought-stricken region this weekend.

At least an inch of icy pellets coated the sand at Huntington Beach, the National Weather Service said. The morning sky suddenly turned dark and then opened up, said Brianna Burkhart, who works at Duke's restaurant on the city pier.

"When it was over, the beach was completely white, like it had snowed," she said.

It was just the third such scene that Lt. Mike Beuerlein could remember in his 34 years with the marine safety division of the Huntington Beach Fire Department.

Offshore lightning accompanied the approximately one-quarter inch of "what we're calling snow at this point," Beuerlein said.

The hail fell for about half an hour, he estimated, and two hours later, about half of the beach still was covered.

"We've got people still coming down. They're having snowball fights," Beuerlein said.

Michael Shorey, who owns a vape store on Main Street, also saw the odd scene: "People were throwing snowballs at each other in shorts and Ugg boots."

It was the second winter storm to hit the area in several days. The first continued to shower inland areas as it diminished and moved east, the weather service said. Scattered flood warnings and winter weather advisories were in place through the afternoon as the second cold low-pressure system moved in.

Three to 6 inches of snow was expected above 5,000 feet, and drivers were warned of poor visibility and treacherous traveling conditions at elevation. Some schools were closed in San Bernardino County mountain communities because of heavy snow.

PHOTO: Dark and threatening storm clouds loom over downtown Los Angeles from a distant hilltop along the Santa Monica Mountains in the Encino area of Los Angeles, Sunday, March 1, 2015. A storm system over Southern California is expected to bring more snow, rain and possible thunderstorms to the region Sunday. The National Weather Service said the threat of showers will linger until Monday morning when the cold low-pressure system moves out. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
Dark and threatening storm clouds loom over downtown Los Angeles from a distant hilltop along the Santa Monica Mountains in the Encino area of Los Angeles, Sunday, March 1, 2015. A storm system over Southern California is expected to bring more snow, rain and possible thunderstorms to the region Sunday. The National Weather Service said the threat of showers will linger until Monday morning when the cold low-pressure system moves out. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

Clearing skies were predicted for Tuesday, and temperatures were expected to hit the 70s and 80s later in the week.

Despite the wet weather, the storms were not expected to put a dent in the state's drought, entering its fourth year.

"We need several large, heavy rainstorms to even have an effect," said David Sweet, a meteorologist with the weather service's Oxnard office.

Heavy rain fell on Los Angeles early Monday, where a freeway south of downtown was briefly closed because of flooding.

The hardest rain the day before came in Ventura County, where it fell at a rate of over 2 inches per hour at one point, the weather service said.

Crews cleared a mudslide that shut down a stretch of Pacific Coast Highway near Point Mugu State Park, allowing it to reopen Monday.

Hail fell on Venice, and plane pilots reported seeing funnel clouds over the ocean about 25 miles off Redondo Beach.

Along California's central coast, heavy rain, pea-size hail and lightning struck San Luis Obispo.

To the north, the Sierra Nevada received a welcome dose of snow. Squaw Valley ski resort "was the big winner" from the storms, with 32 inches by late Sunday, said forecaster Scott McGuire with the weather service office in Reno, Nevada.

But the snow fell mainly around Lake Tahoe and nudged up the mountain range's overall snowpack by only 1 percent, McGuire said. Sierra snowpack, which in a normal year provides much of the state's year-round water supply, so far stands at just 25 percent of the usual total for this time.

The storms brought "drips and drizzles" to the San Francisco Bay Area, weather service forecaster Diana Henderson said.

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Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: This photo provided by Victor M. Bravo shows Huntington Beach covered with hail after a passing storm on Monday, March 2, 2015 in Huntington Beach, Calif. The National Weather Service says at least an inch of icy pellets coated the sand at Huntington Beach after the system roared ashore Monday morning.(AP Photo/Victor M. Bravo)
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