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High avalanche danger, winds topping 100 mph as blizzard slams Tahoe, Mammoth, Sierra Nevada

Rong-Gong Lin II, Salvador Hernandez and Hayley Smith, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

A treacherous, life-threatening blizzard was strengthening over California’s mightiest mountain range Friday, already bringing 100- to 110-mph gusts at the higher elevations, with conditions expected to deteriorate dramatically by the evening.

A gust of 145 mph was recorded Thursday night at Palisades Tahoe at an elevation of 8,700 feet above sea level.

Officials Friday warned of high avalanche danger through Sunday in the Central Sierra slopes and Lake Tahoe.

Up to 12 feet of snow could fall on the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada through Sunday, the National Weather Service office in Sacramento said. Other areas with an elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level could get 5 to 10 feet of snow.

Yosemite National Park said it was closing through at least noon Sunday because of the storm. “Visitors currently in the park should leave as soon as possible, and no later than noon” on Friday, the park said. Several feet of snow is expected at Yosemite.

“Travel should be restricted to emergencies only,” the weather service office in Hanford said.

 

The storm is particularly strong and cold, as it’s moving in from the Pacific Northwest, and “it’s a really deep area of low pressure. It has a lot of cold air ingested into it. And the track and the setup of the system really enhances the upslope flow, or the training of precipitation, over the Sierra,” said Jeffery Wood, meteorologist with the weather service’s Sacramento office. “So as that cold air and moisture is moving up the mountains, it allows for several hours of continuous snowfall to fall.”

It’s possible this storm could result in one of the top 10 snowiest days in the central Sierra since 1970, Wood said.

There will be “whiteout conditions with near zero-visibility at times due to blowing snow,” the weather service office in Reno warned of the strongest Sierra storm of this winter. “Do not travel. If you must travel, have a winter survival kit with you. If you get stranded, stay in your vehicle.”

The main route between Southern California and Mammoth Mountain, Highway 395, could see 1 to 3 feet of snow, with gusts of up to 75 mph in these lower-elevation areas. On Thursday afternoon, the Mammoth area was already seeing gusts of 60 mph.

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