Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Several more feet of snow to fall in Sierra Nevada, even after blizzard

Caltrans workers inspect the damage caused by an avalanche on California State Route 38 after a series of snow storms on Saturday near Big Bear, Calif. San Bernardino County has declared a state of emergency as communities remain buried after a series of blizzards shut down all roads into the mountains, leaving the area running low on gas, food and supplies.  (Michael Heiman)
By Matthew Cappucci and Diana Leonard Washington Post

A blockbuster blizzard, complete with hurricane-force winds and whiteout conditions, is easing Sunday after battering California’s Sierra Nevada for days. But the prolonged storm, which even spawned a tornado near Fresno, isn’t over and more heavy snow is forecast through early Wednesday.

At least 7 feet of snow fell in the high peaks of Sierras, and a 190.1 mph wind gust was recorded Friday night atop the summit of the Palisades Tahoe ski resort.

Blizzard warnings are finally set to expire by 4 a.m. Monday – but another powerful snowstorm is on the way. Winter storm warnings remain in effect until early Wednesday, with another pulse of snow expected to arrive Monday through Tuesday night.

Several additional feet of snow can be expected in the higher terrain, mainly above 4,000 feet. A few inches could reach all the way down to 2,000 feet. Any additional snow will hamper efforts to clean up and dig out from the ongoing powerhouse storm.

For now, the four-day blizzard is beginning to wind down, with snowfall rates of 2 to 4 inches per hour giving way to more intermittent snow showers and squalls. That said, wind gusts could still reach 60 mph in high elevations Sunday before round two arrives Monday, bringing gusts up to 45 mph.

The Weather Service continues to warn of “extremely dangerous to impossible travel conditions with extended road closures.” A 71-mile stretch of Interstate 80 was shut down in both directions for a time over the weekend. It remains closed to the Nevada border, with “no estimated time of reopening” according to California Highway Patrol.

State Route 287 in Placer County was closed between Northstar and Kings Beach because of low visibility.

U.S. Route 50 was temporarily shut down south of Lake Tahoe because of a snow slide Sunday morning, but has reopened, according to

Yosemite National Park was also shut down until noon Sunday, but said it would partially reopen.

“Periods of blowing snow will create blizzard conditions with near zero visibility,” the Weather Service wrote. “Strong winds could cause tree damage.”

It’s too early to know just how much snow fell, particularly because much of the Sierra Ridge is uninhabited. Still, the Weather Service was originally calling for as much as 12 feet of snow – the result of persistent moisture being swirled into California over the course of four days by a slow-moving low-pressure system to the northwest.

The top snowfall report through Sunday morning was 87 inches, or more than 7 feet, near Donner Peak. Soda Springs posted 76 inches.

Palisades Tahoe reported “up to 6 feet of snow in the past two days” on Sunday morning and was expecting another 11 to 17 inches during the day. Through Saturday morning, numerous locations had received 3 to 4 feet.

Video posted on X showed extreme blizzard conditions on Mammoth Mountain on Saturday, and intense snow was still hammering the Sierra on Sunday morning. The Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort posted video of snow piled up as tall as door ceilings.

Despite the treacherous weekend, some ski resorts were initially aiming to open Sunday. Palisades Tahoe announced a delayed opening at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, but then reassessed and decided to stay closed.

“We gave it our best shot, but after a monumental effort by our team we’ve made the difficult decision to remain closed for today,” it wrote on X.

The Sierra-at-Tahoe resort planned a tentative reopening of some lifts, but later announced their closure would last through Monday morning.

“The storm’s intensity did not let up,” it wrote on X. “In fact it doubled down overnight.” Winds atop their summit gusted to 116 mph.

The Central Sierra Snow Lab at Donner Pass, operated by the University of California at Berkeley, reported 23.8 inches of new snow between Saturday and Sunday morning, on top of the 39.8 inches that had fallen prior, meaning its storm total had eclipsed 5 feet.

That same parent low-pressure system also brought a flurry of several funnel clouds, and even a tornado near Madera, about 20 miles northwest of Fresno, on Friday. Video posted to social media captured “helical vortices” at the surface dancing beneath a pendant funnel aloft.

Tornadoes are somewhat of a rarity in California – so much so that it was the first time J.P. Kalb, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Hanford, had issued a warning for one. Tornadoes only touch down about 30 percent of the time when a warning was issued, yet Kalb’s first warning proved to verify.

Additional tornado warnings were issued Saturday for the San Joaquin Valley, which the Hanford office covers. Stephen McCoy, a meteorologist at the Hanford office who was off Saturday, chased down one of the rotating storms between Pixel and Tipton to provide his colleagues with observations from the field:

On Saturday evening, the Weather Service office serving the Bay Area also issued its first tornado warning since 2011 for a possible tornado heading toward the Central Coast town of Hollister. Earlier in the day, a waterspout was spotted along the plunging cliffs of California’s far northwestern coast.

While conditions will broadly improve across the beleaguered Golden State in the next 24 hours, the respite won’t last long.

With another storm rolling through the Sierra early next week, it will be a challenge to clear roads. The Weather Service said travel would remain extremely dangerous today and “difficult at best” through Tuesday night.

“The main concern from a weather perspective is that we’re not going to really see a good break in the snow, so unfortunately the crews are going to have to continue to battle that,” Tyler Salas, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno, said in an interview.