A winter storm packing high winds and potentially several feet of snow blew through the Sierra Nevada on Saturday, triggering thousands of power outages in California, closing a mountain highway at Lake Tahoe and triggering an avalanche warning in the back -country. The storm is expected to bring up to 4 feet of snow to high elevations around Lake Tahoe by Monday morning, the National Weather Service said.
A 250-mile stretch of the Sierra from north of Reno to south of Yosemite National Park was under a winter storm warning at least through Sunday.
“Travel will be very difficult, if not impossible, with whiteout conditions,” the weather service said in Reno, where rain began on Saturday.
A flood advisory was in effect from Sacramento to the California coast near San Francisco.
The storm will hit the California coast in the southwest this weekend with “heavy to excessive rainfall along coastal areas of the Golden State and widespread heavy snow from the Sierra across much of the intermountain west,” the National Weather Service said in a statement. Excessive rainfall will affect the central California coast on Saturday and southern California around the greater Los Angeles and San Diego areas on Sunday.
The U.S. Forest Service issued a backcountry avalanche warning in the mountains west of Lake Tahoe where it said “several feet of fresh snow and strong winds will bring dangerous avalanche conditions” .
A section of California Highway 89 was closed due to heavy snowfall between Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Highway Patrol said. Interstate 80 between Reno and Sacramento remained open but tire chains were required for most vehicles.
More than 30,000 customers were without power in the Sacramento area at one point Saturday morning. It had been restored to all but about 3,300 at noon. But forecasters warned winds of up to 50mph could knock down tree branches and power lines later in the day.
About 10 inches of snow had already fallen at Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort south of Yosemite where more than 10 feet of snow have been recorded since early November.
“It just seems like every week or so another major storm comes along,” station spokeswoman Lauren Burke said.
The storm warning extends through Sunday for most of the Sierra and does not expire until Monday around Tahoe.
Up to 18 to 28 inches of snow was forecast throughout the weekend at lake level, and up to 4 feet at elevations above 7,000 feet with winds of 50 mph and gusts up to 100 mph.
On the eastern slope of the Sierra, a winter weather advisory extends from 10 p.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. for Reno, Sparks and Carson City, with snowfall accumulations of 1 to 3 inches on valley bottoms and up to 8 inches above 5,000 feet.
The system will become a “significant, large-scale storm early next week” across the central and southern United States with heavy snowfall, rain and extreme weather, according to the weather service. Snow is expected to spread across the mountains of the central Rockies and Arizona on Sunday, with totals of 6 to 12 inches expected through Monday morning, the weather service said.