The biggest snowstorm of the season to hit California this week

Dec 12, 2021, 5:06 PM
The biggest snowstorm of the season will hit California this week. (CNN Weather)...
The biggest snowstorm of the season will hit California this week. (CNN Weather)
(CNN Weather)

(CNN) — A drought-denting weather system will hit the West Coast, bringing the biggest snowfall of the season to California. Strong winds and welcome but heavy rain also will affect the West Coast through midweek.

The system is moving in from the Gulf of Alaska and will slowly push hazardous conditions southward from the Pacific Northwest Sunday to Southern California by Tuesday.

This will be “easily the biggest snowstorm this season,” forecasters at the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Sacramento said in their discussion on Sunday morning.

It’s understandable as to why.

Snow totals of 3 to 5 feet are likely for the Sierra Nevada, with isolated areas receiving up to 8 feet. Some areas could see snowfall rates of more than 2 inches an hour.

Wind gusts approaching 60 mph will cause near whiteout conditions, making travel nearly impossible.

Avalanches are also possible, alongside downed trees and power outages. An avalanche was already triggered near a Seattle-area ski resort from this system Saturday.

Outside the Sierras, the Olympic, Cascade and Northern Rocky Mountains are forecast to receive 1 to 3 feet of snow, too.

Welcome rains

California continues to experience record low reservoir levels and exceptional drought conditions.

All of the state is in at least a moderate drought, with much of the central and southern sections in an extreme to exceptional drought.

This is exactly where a long-lived atmospheric river will set up, bringing with it an impressive surge of moisture.

This moisture will fall in the form of heavy mountain snow and soaking rains.

Coastal and valley regions of California, as well as the Pacific Northwest will see at least 1 to 3 inches of some much-needed rain.

Some areas near the foothills in California could see half a foot by Tuesday night.

After the second driest Water Year on record in 2021, running from October 1 to September 30, this is a welcome sight.

Rain and snowpack are important for replenishing California’s water reservoirs, which are low enough to force water emergencies and shut down hydropower plants in the state.

Unfortunately, the rainfall will come with a price.

As the Los Angeles National Weather Service Office said Sunday morning, the rain will “make a mess of rush hour traffic on Tuesday.”

Plus, too much precipitation too quickly on dry soils and burn scars raises the concern for flash flooding, as well as the potential for mudslides in the coming days in Central and Southern California.

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The biggest snowstorm of the season to hit California this week