Blizzard warning of up to 10 feet of snow in the Sierra could make travel ‘dangerous to impossible’

A Pacific storm with strong winds and heavy snow is shaping up to be the strongest of the season, forecasters say, as it heads toward California with possible snowstorms in the Sierra and up to 10 feet of snow in the mountains around it. Lake Tahoe by the weekend.

The National Weather Service in Reno issued a blizzard warning Wednesday for a 300-mile (482-kilometer) stretch of the Sierra, from northern Lake Tahoe to southern Yosemite National Park, from early Thursday through 10 a.m. Sunday.

The widespread snowfall will produce blizzard conditions with whiteout conditions and near-zero visibility, making travel “dangerous to impossible” Friday through Saturday morning, when the heaviest snow is expected, the weather service said.

Between 2 and 4 feet (61 to 122 centimeters) are expected in towns along the Tahoe coast and 5 to 10 feet (1.5 to 3 meters) at the highest elevations with wind gusts exceeding 100 mph (160 km per hours) over the Sierra ridges. the weather service said. Road closures and power outages are likely.

“Do not take this storm lightly,” the weather service in Reno warned.

Potential snow totals vary under different scenarios, but the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, said there is little doubt: “March will come like a lion for the West Coast states.”

An “impressive winter storm will hit the Cascades to the Sierra with snowstorms to end the week,” the center said Wednesday. Heavy but lighter snow is headed to the Rocky Mountains, and “heavy rain is expected in coastal areas between San Francisco and Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, where several inches are likely to fall over the next three days.”

The chief scientist at a snow lab atop the Sierra said it’s possible they could break their modern record of about 3 feet (1 meter) of snow in a single day as of 1989.

“It’s a very serious storm for us,” Andrew Schwartz said Wednesday from UC-Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Lab, founded in 1946 in Soda Springs, California, northwest of Lake Tahoe.

Kristi Anderson, a waitress at The Gateway Cafe in South Lake Tahoe, California, said she has already filled her gas tank and is stocking up on food and firewood.

“Last year we had a lot of storms, and the power went out a lot and a lot of people couldn’t go out to get food and the grocery stores didn’t have power, so we’re preparing for that,” Anderson said. said. “I hope not many people travel here because the roads will be very bad.”

Others remain skeptical.

Richard Cunningham said he had heard before about predictions for the storm of the century that have not come true since he moved from Las Vegas to Reno in 1997.

“Same story, different day,” he said Wednesday. “Sometimes it doesn’t even snow.”

But Schwartz, the Sierra snow lab scientist, said he has been looking at the computer models for the past two weeks and thinks the National Weather Service snowfall forecasts are conservative.

“The forecast snow lab total of 6 to 8 feet is on the lower end of what the models suggest,” he said.

It’s good news for Tahoe-area ski areas, which started the season with little snow but has picked up lately after last year’s near-record snowfall.

Officials at Palisades Tahoe Ski Area, where a skier was killed in an avalanche last month, said on their website Wednesday that they are “excited about the prospect” of heavy snowfall while at the same time preparing for “challenging operational impacts.”

“There will be slick roads, reduced visibility and mountain pass closures that are all but guaranteed,” Palisades Tahoe spokesman Patrick Lacey said.


This story has been updated to correct the National Weather Service’s forecast for travel as “dangerous to impossible,” not “extremely dangerous to possible.”