Winter storm slams western U.S., brings heavy snow, drenching rain

A winter storm packing powerful winds, heavy rain and potentially several feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada shut down mountain highways
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Winter storm slams western U.S., brings heavy snow, drenching rain

A winter storm packing powerful winds, heavy rain and potentially several feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada shut down mountain highways, toppled trees and triggered flood watches and avalanche warnings on Saturday from the coast of Northern California to Lake Tahoe. The powerful storm system is expected to move east over the next several days, forecasters said.

More than 250 miles of the Sierra remained under a winter storm warning at least until Sunday night or early Monday from north of Reno to south of Yosemite National Park.

As much as 4 feet of snow is expected to fall by the end of the weekend in the upper elevations around Lake Tahoe, and as much as 6 feet in more remote parts of the Sierra to the north and south.

The National Weather Service said in a statement that the storm's "impacts will be widespread from north to south with numerous winter weather-related advisories in effect." Snowfall totals in the Pacific Northwest, the Northern Rockies, the Great Basin and  California would range from between 12 and 24 inches, the weather service said, with the Sierra Nevada seeing the "heaviest snowfall."

A 70-mile stretch of eastbound U.S. Interstate 80 was closed "due to zero visibility" from Colfax, California to the Nevada state line, transportation officials said. Chains were required on much of the rest of I-80 in the mountains from Reno toward Sacramento.

A stretch of California Highway 89 also was closed due to heavy snow between Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe, California, the highway patrol said.

The U.S. Forest Service issued an avalanche warning for the backcountry in the mountains west of Lake Tahoe where it said "several feet of new snow and strong winds will result in dangerous avalanche conditions."

Gusts of wind up to 50 mph that sent trees into homes in Sonoma County on Saturday could reach 100 mph over Sierra ridgetops by early Sunday, the National Weather Service said.

Heavy rain was forecast through the weekend from San Francisco to the Sierra crest with up to 2 inches in the Bay Area and up to 5 inches at Grass Valley northeast of Sacramento.

The weather service issued a flash flood warning on Saturday when inches of rain fell on burn scars left by wildfires south of Monterey and farther south of Big Sur.

More than 30,000 customers were without power in the Sacramento area at one point Saturday morning, but it was restored to all but a few hundred late in the day. The drivers and passengers of five cars that had been trapped between downed power lines escaped unharmed, the Sacramento Bee reported.

San Francisco Bay Area officials reported power outages and fallen trees, some of which damaged cars and homes. In Monte Rio, a small town along the Russian River in Sonoma County, firefighters responded to several reports of downed trees crashing into homes in 50 mph wind gusts.

CBS San Francisco reported that in Golden Gate Park, a massive redwood tree fell, forcing organizers to alter the race course at the National Club Cross County Championships.

People dressed up as Santa Clause during SantaCon at Union Square despite heavy rain in San Francisco, California

In the Sierra, about 10 inches of snow already had fallen Saturday afternoon at Mammoth Mountain ski resort south of Yosemite where more than 10 feet of snow has been recorded since early November.

"It just seems like every week or so, another major storm rolls in," resort spokeswoman Lauren Burke said.

Portions of Southern California are expected to see heavy rainfall Sunday. Up to 6 inches of rain are possible in the foothills of Los Angeles County, the weather service said. 

The system will become a "large-scale and significant storm early next week" across the central and southern U.S. with heavy snow, rain and severe weather, according to the weather service. The snow is expected to spread into the mountains of the central Rockies and Arizona Sunday, with totals of 6 to 12 inches anticipated through early Monday morning.

Dr. Greg Postel, meteorologist for The Weather Channel, described it as a "very impactful system from coast to coast."

Postel said that parts of Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas could see severe weather on Tuesday. The storm front could also bring tornadoes to the southern U.S., Postel added.

"Basically, really bad weather moving across the South, and also a blizzard in the Northern Plains at the same time," Postel said.  

The NWS Weather Prediction Center reported that "blizzard conditions" were possible for parts of South Dakota Tuesday and Wednesday, adding that "travel may be impossible."

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