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Major storm to blast through California tonight: feet of mountain snow, flooding in valleys

(Photo: TruckStockImages.com)

The second Sierra Nevada snowstorm of the season will be a doozy for some parts of the range, compared to the first storm a week ago. Snow is already falling and will become heavier later today and tonight, lasting through Thursday. Trying to move freight will be a gamble from the mountains just east of Bakersfield to the mountains just east of Sacramento.

With three feet of snow forecast for some of the highest elevations, it’ll be nearly impossible to get through many mountain passes from western Nevada through eastern California, and vice versa. Strong winds will also make travel risky, especially for anyone deadheading or trying to haul light loads. Whiteout conditions will be a good bet in many spots due to blowing snow.

In order to avoid major delays or accidents, fleet managers will have to find alternate routes for their drivers, sending them around the storm to the north or south if they can’t get a big head start this afternoon.

Here’s the breakdown by area.

Mono County, California

  • Total snow accumulations of five to 10 inches expected, with 12 to 36 inches for elevations above 7,000 feet. Expect two to five inches of snow for the lowest elevations along US-395, including Markleeville, Coleville, Lee Vining, and Bridgeport.

  • Winds gusting as high as 60 mph across the higher terrain of the Sierra.

  • From 10 p.m. Wednesday to 4 a.m. Pacific time Friday.

  • Travel could be very difficult to impossible. Heavy wet snow could cause tree branches to break and block some roads.

Greater Lake Tahoe area

  • Total snow accumulations of six to 12 inches are forecast, with 12 to 24 inches above 7,000 feet and locally higher amounts at the Sierra crest. At Lake Tahoe level, three to six inches are expected.

  • Winds gusting as high as 60 mph over the higher terrain of the Sierra.

  • From 10 p.m. Wednesday to 4 a.m. Pacific time Friday.

  • Travel could be very difficult to impossible with a good chance of  long delays across Sierra passes, including I-80 and US-50. Heavy wet snow could cause tree branches to break and block some roads.

Lassen Volcanic National Park and the higher elevations of western Plumas County, Interstate 80 over Donner Pass, US-50 over Echo Summit, and SR-88 over Carson Pass

  • Snow accumulations of around 12 inches will be possible into this evening through the higher passes. Late tonight through Thursday night look for  additional accumulations of six to 12 inches above 6,000 feet, with 18 to 36 inches possible at the higher elevations from late tonight through Thursday night.

  • Now until 4 a.m. Pacific time Friday.

  • Be prepared for significant reductions in visibility at times and major travel delays at times Thursday.

Eastern Sierra slopes

  • Total snow accumulations six to 12 inches are forecast from 6,000 to ,8500 feet, with 12 to 30 inches above 8,500 feet.

  • Winds gusting as high as 50 mph near Sierra ridge tops.

  • From 10 p.m. Wednesday to 4 a.m. Pacific time Friday.

  • Travel could be very difficult to impossible. Gusty winds could bring down tree branches, blocking some roads.

Tulare County Mountains and Sierra Nevada from Yosemite to Kings Canyon

  • Total snow accumulations of more than 24 inches are expected above 7,000 feet.

  • Winds could gust as high as 50 mph over the crest.

  • From Wednesday evening through late Thursday night.

  • Travel could be very difficult to impossible. Strong winds could cause tree damage.

Winter Storm Warnings have been issued by the National Weather Service for the areas mentioned above. Look for updates on this interactive map.

A Winter Storm Warning for snow means severe winter weather conditions will make travel very hazardous or impossible. Any truckers who have to drive through the Sierra Nevada tonight and tomorrow will have to carry chains. Check chain laws here for the latest updates on winter driving. Also, it’s helpful to keep an extra flashlight, food, clothing, and water with you in case of an emergency.

While snow falls in the mountains, heavy rain could cause flooding in northern California in the Sacramento Valley. There’s a Flash Flood Watch for the Camp Fire burn area in Butte County, as well as the burn areas of the Carr, Delta, and Hirz Fires in Shasta County and the Mendocino Complex in Lake County.

Drivers should expect delays along I-5 and SR-299 in the western portion of Shasta County, portions of SR-70 and the Skyway in Butte County, and areas north and west of Clearlake in Lake County on SR-20, SR-29, and SR-175. Be alert for possible road closures due to flooding, rockslides, and debris flows. Check road closures in California on this interactive web site.

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Nick Austin, Director of Weather Analytics and Senior Meteorologist

In his 17 years of weather forecasting experience, Nick worked on air at WBBJ-TV and WRCB-TV, including time spent doing weather analysis and field reporting. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from Georgia Institute of Technology. Nick is also a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” for eight consecutive years. Nick earned his National Weather Association Broadcasting Seal in 2005.
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