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Blizzard hits Northern California with heavy snow and strong winds, closing roads and ski areas


A rare blizzard sent its final bursts of snow and strong winds across California’s Sierra Nevada on Sunday, keeping some major roads closed and shuttering ski resorts from Lake Tahoe to Mammoth.

Mammoth Mountain Ski Area was closed due to powerful winds up to 70 mph, with higher gusts, sweeping across the mountains, blowing snow.

“It is still far too windy to operate and allow lift maintenance to safely complete their checks or the ski patrol to complete necessary avalanche mitigation measures,” Mammoth Mountain said on its website.

The blizzard dumped between 5 and 7 feet of snow in parts of the Sierra Nevada over the weekend. The National Weather Service in Sacramento said a rare blizzard warning would remain in effect until midnight Sunday for areas above 6,500 feet elevation, while other parts of the Sierra Nevada were under to a winter storm warning.

Snow continued to fall on the mountains Sunday, with an additional 1 to 2 feet of snow expected in areas above 4,000 feet elevation.

A snow plow is used to clear a road during a storm in Truckee Saturday.

A snow plow is used to clear a road during a storm in Truckee Saturday.

(Brooke Hess-Homeier / Associated Press)

Heavy snowfall led to several road closures over the weekend. U.S. Highway 50 reopened Sunday morning, allowing vehicles equipped with chains to reach the South Lake Tahoe area.

Just west of Echo Summit on Highway 50, a few vehicles were temporarily stuck in several feet of snow that slid down the mountainside onto the road, said Steve Nelson, a Department of Transportation spokesman. California Transportation. He said a crew towed the vehicles and no one was injured.

On the north side of Lake Tahoe, Interstate 80 remained closed due to snow for a third day.

And in the eastern Sierra, U.S. Highway 395 was closed in Mono County, where Caltrans crews were working on snow removal.

Even as blizzard conditions began to ease, the National Weather Service urged people to avoid driving in the mountains.

“Winds can reach 45 miles per hour at these higher elevations, and with the snow continuing to fall, that creates very dangerous travel conditions,” said Sara Purdue, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. “We still strongly advise against travel to mountain areas.”

Snow covers the landscape in front of a store in Truckee Saturday.

Snow covers the landscape in front of a store in Truckee, California. The biggest storm of the season closed a long stretch of Interstate 80 and gusty winds and heavy rain pounded lower elevations, leaving tens of thousands of homes without power.

(Brooke Hess-Homeier / Associated Press)

Another approaching storm is expected to bring more snow Monday and Tuesday to the Sierra Nevada.

“It won’t have as much impact as this system. But we’re still looking at the possibility of several feet of snow at higher elevations,” Perdue said.

Snow and high winds have created dangerous or impassable conditions at various ski resorts. At Palisades Tahoe, all lifts were closed Sunday due to “intense weather conditions.”

Sierra-at-Tahoe said on its website that “the intensity of the storm did not diminish – in fact, it doubled overnight,” with winds piling up deep snowdrifts that workers were clearing .

South of Tahoe, Kirkwood Mountain Resort said it opened some of its lifts after initially suspending them to ensure safety.

The blizzard arrived with extremely powerful wind gusts, which reached up to 190 mph in one location Friday evening. The National Weather Service expected wind gusts above 100 mph in parts of the Sierra through early Monday.

An avalanche warning was in effect for the Eastern Sierra. The National Weather Service warned people against traveling to backcountry areas — such as those planning to go cross-country skiing or snowmobiling — saying strong winds “will continue to overload the snowpack , which contains buried fragile layers”, thus creating very dangerous avalanche conditions.

Along with the strong winds, two tornadoes touched down in parts of the Central Valley. No injuries were reported.

“From Merced to Bakersfield, we had a very strong jet stream right above us,” said Carlos Molina, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford. “Winds of 50 to 70 mph whipped snow falling on the mountains and created blizzard conditions.”

Molina said Sunday’s blizzard was “fading” as the weather system moved beyond California into neighboring states. He said the next approaching storm doesn’t have the ingredients to produce blizzard conditions, but it will bring more snow and rain.


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