Sierra snowstorm could close more roads this weekend

  (Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)

The snow seems to never stop falling in the Sierra Nevada. Some locations like Northstar, at 8,601 feet in elevation, have received eight feet of snow in the past week. Another California ski area, Dodge Ridge, at 8,2000 feet, has recorded 14 feet in the past two weeks. Average snowpack is almost nine times deeper than this time last year and is covering around 20 percent more of the region.

It’s been a busy season overall for skiers and resort owners, and they won’t be disappointed this weekend. However, truckers will have a tough time hauling loads through the region, possibly running into more road closures and delays in the usual trouble spots like Carson Pass, Donner Pass and Echo Pass, just to name a few.

Snow Amounts and Travel Troubles

  Map: NOAA

The forecast for snowfall is pretty steady through Sunday afternoon, with total accumulations of 12 to 36 inches above 8,000 feet in elevation in the southern end of the Sierras, along with. pockets of five-foot totals. Up to 12 inches could even pile up between in the foothills of the Kern County mountains.

Some of the heaviest snow is forecast to fall in western Plumas County and around Lassen National Volcanic Park, where three to six feet are on the way for places above 3,500 feet in elevation, with localized amounts up to seven feet. In eastern Plumas County, around Portola and Susanville, look for four to eight inches of weekend snow, with 12 to 24 inches west of US-395.

Other areas expected to be hit hard are from Kings Canyon National Park to Yosemite National Park, in addition to the Tulare County mountains (cities of Camp Nelson, Giant Forest, Johnsondale and Lodgepole). This is where new snow accumulations of one to three feet will accumulate, with up to five feet in the high country above 7,000 feet where winds gusts could reach 50 mph.

We can’t forget about the communities of Bridgeport, Coleville and Mammoth Lakes in Mono County. They’ll get five to 10 inches of new snow, with two to four feet above 7,000 feet in areas west of US-395. Winds will be fiercely whipping up to 60 mph across the tallest ridgetops.

South Lake Tahoe, Incline Village, Stateline, and Truckee will probably see 12 to 36 inches of additional snow, with 3 to 6 feet above 7,000 feet. Winds gusts will reach 60 mph across the ridgelines Saturday and Sunday.

Interstate 80 from Reno through Truckee and Donner Pass is a popular route for truckers hauling loads from Colorado and Utah to northern California, even on the weekends. Hours of service utilization through Reno is often higher than the rest of the country, as seen on the FreightWaves SONAR chart below. Based on this trend, there may be a lot of truck traffic again this weekend, but drivers could run into major delays because of the weather.

According to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), closures on I-80 have been frequent this winter, sometimes lasting more than 24 hours. Routes over other mountain passes have been closed at times, too. Carriers and fleet managers may want to plan alternate routes, if possible, so their drivers won’t waste valuable time being snowbound.

  SONAR ticker: HOS11.USA (white), HOS11.RNO (green)
SONAR ticker: HOS11.USA (white), HOS11.RNO (green)

The Cascade Range in northern California will get its share of snow this weekend, too, with up to 30 inches around Shasta Lake and Burney Basin above 3,000 feet. High elevations of Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Siskiyou and Trinity counties could receive 12 to 24 inches, with even a few inches down in the valleys. Winds will be occasionally strong, too.

Updated chain laws can be found here, and winter weather alerts from the National Weather Service (NWS) are on this interactive map.

Other Significant Weekend Weather

Look for heavy snow Friday evening in the Salt Lake City metro area, which could see around four inches along the I-15 corridor with isolated heavier amounts possible. Parts of the Wasatch Mountains will see up to 12 inches. On Saturday, this storm shifts to the western mountains of Colorado, where it will drop four to eight inches of snow in the highest elevations west of Denver. This could slow down traffic on portions of I-70. Areas such as Aspen, Steamboat Springs and Vail are forecast to see three to six inches.

Roads could be icy from sleet and freezing rain Friday evening along the Arkansas-Missouri border and into southern Illinois and Kentucky. Be extra careful on secondary routes, as well as bridges and overpasses. This batch of wintry weather, with some rain in the mix, could reach parts of the southern Appalachians by late Friday night or early Saturday. It should stay below the Mason-Dixon line on Saturday as it spreads through the Mid-Atlantic states, moving offshore by evening. An extensive band of snowfall will also develop Saturday evening through Sunday afternoon across the Dakotas, stretching to the Chicago metro area and upstate New York.

Strong winds could make deadheading or hauling light loads risky across eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle, where wind gusts could reach 50 mph on the I-27 corridor. Dust and dirt could be swirling around, reducing visibility at times.

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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.