A powerful storm will crank up across California this weekend, turning parts of the Golden State white. Heavy snowfall and strong winds will likely cause significant freight transportation delays. Shippers, as well as drivers and dispatchers, should do whatever they can do get ahead of/go around this storm, if possible.
Timing and snow amounts
A potent low pressure system over the Pacific Ocean will approach the West Coast of the U.S. later today, Dec. 6. This evening, light to moderate snowfall will begin in the Mt. Shasta region in northern California and the Sierra Nevada in eastern California. Tomorrow, the snow will come down faster and winds will become dangerous.
Elevations above 7,000 feet are likely to get buried under one to three feet of snow, with isolated spots approaching four feet. Lesser amounts will cover areas in the 5,000- to 7,000-foot range. Interstate-80 will be a mess for truckers coming from Reno, Nevada into California, and US-395 will be quite treacherous. Other usual trouble spots will be Carson, Donner and Echo passes.
Gusts will reach 70 to 90 mph on many Sierra ridges, possibly exceeding 100 mph in a few locations; gusts will top out at 30 to 50 mph below the ridges. Blowing snow, white-out conditions, and road closures possibly lasting 24 hours or more are a pretty good bet. This storm may also produce heavy weekend snowfall in parts of the Cascades and Rockies. Check the latest chain laws here for the latest updates on winter driving.
The storm should begin fading Sunday afternoon, Dec. 8, but roads will remain in bad shape past the weekend. Even if daytime highs next week manage to melt some of the snow, it will only refreeze as nighttime lows drop to the teens and 20s.
Besides delays in freight movement on the roads, a storm of this magnitude may slow down loads moving by rail. Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) and BNSF (NYSE: BRK.A) have tracks that run through the high-impact zone of the impending snowstorm. Also, local and regional supply chains may be disrupted. The fierce winds, coupled with the heavy snow which could be wet at times, will probably take down utility lines and cause scattered power outages.
Meteorologists at the National Weather Service (NWS) told FreightWaves that a storm like this is “not unusual at all [for early December].” They added that “A ‘typical’ winter storm will easily bring one to three feet of snow in the high Sierra” and conditions on I-80 “can be dicey up there anytime it snows.” So, the effects of the storm should be taken seriously. The NWS has posted a Winter Storm Warning for the region.
There’s a wet side to the storm, too. Heavy rain could flood some lower slopes and valleys in the region, leading to mudslides or even debris flows from wildfire burn scars. This includes areas just north of San Francisco, near Santa Rosa, where the Kincade Fire burned earlier this fall. The NWS has issued a Flash Flood Watch for the Kincade Fire burn scar area for today and tonight.
Other areas of snowfall this weekend
It’s the same old song and dance for the Northeast, to the tune of more lake effect and lake- enhanced snowfall today, Dec. 6. Most of the snow will hit upstate New York, the Green Mountains and the Berkshires. The highest amounts – up to five inches – will accumulate along US-7 from Pittsfield, Massachusetts to Wallington, Vermont, as well as spots just east of Albany. Lighter amounts could fall from Worcester and Springfield over to Boston.
Some quick bursts of snowfall may return to northern portions of Minnesota and Wisconsin on Saturday, as well as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Then, a batch of snow could spread across northern Maine on Sunday, along with some lake effect snow showers in the Great Lake states.
Have a great day, a wonderful weekend, and be careful out there!