Significant weekend storm to slam the Sierras: snow, wind, power outages

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The weekend will start on a pretty quiet note tonight for most of the U.S., but this will change soon. A storm brewing in the Pacific will crash into the Sierra Nevada Mountains on Saturday, dumping lots of snow in the Shasta region and greater Lake Tahoe area. While the storm might bring joy to some skiers, it will make trouble for many truckers.

The snow will move into the area late Friday night/early Saturday, fading Saturday night, and its effects will be felt in elevations as low as 3,500 feet. Some of the highest peaks will receive up to 20 inches, along with explosive snowfall rates.

Scott McGuire, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno, Nevada, tells FreightWaves that even though these snow amounts are typical for a single storm at this time of year, drivers should take the situation seriously. McGuire also says that many truckers haul through the Sierras, and he gets plenty of telephone calls from transportation companies asking about approaching storms. He goes on to say that this weekend’s storm will be “quick and intense” and is “getting a lot of attention” because it will be the first noteworthy snowfall in a few weeks.

Here’s the breakdown of what drivers can expect, region by region.

Greater Lake Tahoe area, including Incline Village, Portola, Stateline, Susanville, South Lake Tahoe, and Truckee

This is the area likely to be hit the hardest. Heavy, wet snow and strong winds will make it dangerous and risky to deadhead or haul light loads, and hauling full loads will also be difficult. Snowfall rates of one to three inches per hour are predicted, with visibilities below one-half mile at times. Snowfall amounts will range from one to three inches in Susanville, to six to 12 inches in Truckee and Tahoe, to 15 to 20 inches at mountain passes. Valley winds will gust to 50 mph, with gusts reaching 100 mph on ridges.

Travel will be very difficult by Saturday afternoon over key Sierra passes including Donner on I-80, Echo on US-50, as well as Fredonyer on CA-36 and Yuba on CA-49. Drivers who have to drive through these areas will likely have to plan ahead, doubling or even tripling their typical travel times.

Siskiyou County, California, including Mount Shasta

Much of the Mount Shasta region will be blanketed with six to 12 inches of snow, although localized amounts up to 16 inches may occur. This will affect travel on I-5 from Weed to Dunsmuir, all of CA-89 including Snowmans Summit and McCloud, as well as the mountains south of Tennant. Wind gusts of 65 mph will lead to blowing and drifting snow, making it hard for truckers to see the road and other vehicles. Other troublesome routes will be Sawyers Bar Road west of Etna, and CA-3 south of Callahan near Scott Mountain Summit.

Mendocino and Trinity Counties, California

Four to seven inches of snowfall will impact travel in fairly low elevations of Trinity County, between 3,000 feet and 4,000 feet, with localized amounts up to 16 inches above 4,000 feet. This will make driving difficult on CA-299 at Buckhorn Summit, CA-3 north of Weaverville and Hayfork Summit, as well as CA-36 at and east of South Fork Mountain.

Northeastern portions of Mendocino County will see snow accumulations of two to five inches between 3,500 and 4,500 feet, with localized amounts up to 16 inches above 4,500 feet. This will affect travel mainly on CA-162.

The one silver lining is that winds should not be as strong in these areas compared to Siskiyou County and the greater Lake Tahoe area, so slick conditions will be the main concern.

Additional Information

Not only will strong winds lead to blowing snow and low visibility in areas previously mentioned, but the combination of the winds and heavy snow could knock down large tree limbs and electrical lines, blocking routes and causing power outages. For truckers who have to haul through the mountains of northern and eastern California on Saturday, carry an emergency kit with extra food, water, and clothing in case you get caught in traffic for long periods of time or get stuck in the snow.

Check chain laws here for the latest updates on winter driving, and be alert for rock slides in mountainous terrain. Another snow storm may hit the Sierras Sunday night and Monday, so look for the latest winter weather alerts from the National Weather Service on this interactive map. Have a safe weekend!

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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.