A winter storm with strong winds, heavy rain and possibly several feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada crippled mountain highways, downed trees and triggered flood watches and avalanche warnings from the coast of Northern California to Lake Tahoe on Saturday. The powerful storm system is expected to move east over the next few days, forecasters said.
More than 250 miles of the Sierra remained under a winter storm warning through at least Sunday night or early Monday, from north of Reno to south of Yosemite National Park.
Up to 4 feet of snow is expected to fall in the upper elevations around Lake Tahoe and up to 6 feet in more remote parts of the Sierra north and south by the end of the weekend.
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A 70-mile eastbound section of U.S. Interstate 80 was closed “due to zero visibility” from Colfax, California, to the Nevada state line, traffic officials said. Chains were required on much of the remaining I-80 in the mountains from Reno to Sacramento.
A section of California Highway 89 was closed due to heavy snowfall between Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe, California, highway patrol officials said.
The US Forest Service issued an avalanche warning for the backcountry mountains west of Lake Tahoe, saying “several feet of fresh snow and strong winds will create dangerous avalanche conditions.”
Wind gusts of up to 50 mph that sent trees into homes in Sonoma County Saturday could reach 62 mph over Sierra Ridgetops by early Sunday, the National Weather Service said.
Heavy rain was forecast for the weekend from San Francisco to the Sierra ridge, with up to 2 inches in the Bay Area and up to 5 inches in the Grass Valley northeast of Sacramento.
The Weather Service issued a flash flood warning Saturday as inches of rain fell on burn scars left by wildfires south of Monterey and further south of Big Sur.
More than 30,000 customers were without power in the Sacramento area at one point Saturday morning, but power was restored to all but a few hundred late in the day. The drivers and passengers of five cars trapped between downed power lines escaped unharmed, the Sacramento Bee reported.
San Francisco Bay Area officials reported power outages and downed trees, some damaging cars and homes. The fire department is on duty in Monte Rio, a small town on the Russian River in Sonoma Countyof fallen trees crashing into houses in 80 km/h wind gusts.
CBS San Francisco reported that a massive sequoia fell in Golden Gate Park, forcing organizers to change the race course at the National Club Cross County Championships.
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In the Sierra, about 10 inches of snow had already fallen Saturday afternoon at the Mammoth Mountain ski area south of Yosemite, where more than 10 feet of snow had been recorded since early November.
“It seems like there’s another big storm coming in every week or so,” said resort spokeswoman Lauren Burke.
Heavy rain is expected in parts of Southern California on Sunday. Up to 6 inches of rain is possible in the Los Angeles County foothills, the weather service said.
The system will become a “widespread and significant storm” across the central and southern United States with heavy snowfall, rain and severe weather early next week, according to the weather service. Snow is expected to spread through the mountains of the central Rockies and Arizona on Sunday, with a total of 6 to 12 inches expected by early Monday morning.
dr Greg Postel, meteorologist for The Weather Channel, described it as a “very effective coast-to-coast system”.
Postel said parts of Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas could experience severe weather on Tuesday. The storm front could also bring tornadoes to the southern U.S., Postel added.
“Basically, really bad weather is sweeping down the south and a blizzard hitting the northern plains at the same time,” Postel said.
The National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center reported that “blizzard conditions” were possible for parts of South Dakota Tuesday and Wednesday, adding that “travel may be impossible.”