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Rare blizzard warning for Mammoth, Tahoe: 'Not the time to gamble with ... your family's lives'

Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

A rare blizzard warning was issued for the Sierra Nevada, including ski resorts at Mammoth Mountain and around Lake Tahoe, as officials urged people to avoid travel during treacherous weather Thursday through Sunday.

Up to 8 feet of snow could fall, the latest forecasts say. The blizzard warning was in effect from Lassen Volcanic National Park in Shasta County to Kings Canyon National Park in Fresno County.

Friday night to Saturday morning is expected to bring the most extreme conditions of severe snowfall and strong winds, with snow falling at a rate of 3 to 5 inches per hour. Wind gusts on the ridge of California's mightiest mountain range are expected to "easily exceed" more than 100 mph, and residents are urged to be prepared for power outages and falling trees.

"There are only so many ways that we can say it will be treacherous to be traveling on the roads or even exiting your home during this time frame," the National Weather Service office in Reno said. "Whiteout conditions are very disorienting, so this is not the time to gamble with you or your family's lives, especially over a planned weekend ski vacation."

The latest forecasts suggest between 4 to 8 feet of snow could fall in the Tahoe Basin at elevations 7,000 feet above sea level, while 2 to 4 feet of snow could fall in the towns around Lake Tahoe. (An earlier forecast said 5 to 12 feet of snow was possible at elevations 5,000 feet above sea level.)

In Mono County, where Mammoth Mountain is located, there could be 3 to 6 feet of snow along the Sierra crest and 1 to 3 feet of snow in the communities along Highway 395, the main route between Mammoth and Southern California. Winds could gust there as high as 70 mph in the lower elevations.

 

"Do not take this storm lightly. It is shaping up to be the strongest storm of the winter season. Prepare now," the weather service office in Reno said. "If you must travel in the Sierra during this prolonged storm, have a winter kit and plenty of supplies. Nothing like an unsafe, impromptu camping trip in your car on Donner Pass."

Forecasters warned that flights will likely be delayed or canceled, motorists would be ordered to put chains on tires and travelers could get disoriented from whiteout conditions.

Along the two main routes many visitors from the San Francisco Bay Area take to the Lake Tahoe area, the highest point of Interstate 80 — Donner Pass, at an elevation of about 7,000 feet — could get 6 to 8 feet of snow. The tallest point of Highway 50 — Echo Summit — could get 5 to 7 feet of snow.

Officials also warned about traveling on any road above 1,000 feet in northwest California. The National Weather Service office in Eureka warned about heavy snowfall down to elevations of as low as 500 feet, and warned of a "small hail threat" along the coast.

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