Epic blizzard hitting Tahoe, Mammoth, Sierra Nevada 'with a vengeance'

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

Published in Weather News

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

“It’ll arrive with a vengeance,” said meteorologist Amanda Young of the National Weather Service’s Reno office, which issued a rare blizzard warning for the region, which is typically issued only once a year or every other year.

Up to 12 feet of snow could fall on the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada from Thursday 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.

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.

The highest elevation of the main roads to Lake Tahoe from the San Francisco Bay Area — Interstate 80 and Highway 50 — could see upward of 8 to 10 feet of snow. Interstate 5 in Siskiyou County, near the Oregon border, could see more than 1 foot of snow.

In Lake Tahoe, Manuel Jimenez Jr. and his son, Manuel Jimenez III, spent Thursday morning getting their tow trucks ready for what was sure to be a busy, treacherous weekend on the roads. The two own two local towing companies — Lake Tahoe Towing and South Lake Tahoe Towing — and storms such as this mean long workdays ahead.


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