A winter storm packed with strong winds and potentially several feet of snow pounded the Sierra Nevada on Saturday, causing thousands of power outages in California, closing a mountain highway at Lake Tahoe and triggering avalanche warnings in the backcountry. The National Weather Service said the storm is expected to bring up to 4 feet of snow on the upper reaches of Lake Tahoe by Monday morning.
A 250-mile stretch of the Sierra from north of Reno to south of Yosemite National Park was under winter storm warnings until at least Sunday.
“Travel will become very difficult with whiteout conditions,” the weather service said in Reno, where it began raining Saturday.
Flood advisories were in effect from Sacramento to the California coast near San Francisco.
The storm will affect the California coastline to the southwest this weekend, bringing “heavy rain across the Golden State coastline and widespread heavy snow across the Sierra,” the National Weather Service said in a statement. Extreme rainfall will affect the central California coast on Saturday, and southern California around the Los Angeles and San Diego areas on Sunday.
The US Forest Service issued an avalanche warning for backcountry in the mountains west of Lake Tahoe, where it said “several feet of new snow and high winds will create dangerous avalanche conditions.”
The Highway Patrol said a section of California Highway 89 between Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe, California, was closed due to heavy snowfall. Interstate 80 between Reno and Sacramento remained open but most vehicles were required to have chains on the tires.
More than 30,000 customers were without power in the Sacramento area at one point Saturday morning. It was restored to all but about 3,300 by the afternoon. But forecasters warned that winds as high as 50 mph could bring down tree branches and power lines later in the day.
About 10 inches of snow already fell at Mammoth Mountain ski resort south of Yosemite, where more than 10 feet of snow has been recorded since early November.
“It seems like every week or so there’s another major storm,” said Lauren Burke, a spokeswoman for the resort.
The storm warning extends through Sunday for most of the Sierra, and doesn’t end until Monday around Tahoe.
Lake levels were predicted to see 18 to 28 inches of snow during the weekend with wind gusts of up to 4 feet above 7,000 feet and gusts up to 100 mph.
On the Eastern Slope of the Sierra, a Winter Weather Advisory is in effect for Reno, Sparks and Carson City from 10 PM to 10 AM Saturday with 1 to 3 inches of snow accumulation on the valley floor and up to 8 inches above 5,000 feet Is.
According to the weather service, the system will become a “massive and significant storm early next week” across the central and southern US, bringing heavy snow, rain and severe weather. Snow is expected to spread throughout the central Rockies and mountains of Arizona through Sunday, with totals of 6 to 12 inches by Monday morning, the weather service said.