WEATHER

Powerful storm in California and Nevada shuts interstate and dumps snow on mountains

Mar 1, 2024, 8:28 PM | Updated: Mar 2, 2024, 9:58 am

A vehicle drives through blowing snow near Interstate 80 (I-80) in the Sierra Nevada mountains at t...

A vehicle drives through blowing snow near Interstate 80 (I-80) in the Sierra Nevada mountains at the start of a powerful winter storm on February 29, 2024 near Kingvale, California. Blizzard warnings have been issued with snowfall of up to 12 feet and wind gusts of up to 100 mph expected in some higher elevation locations during the multiple day storm. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A powerful blizzard raged overnight into Saturday in the Sierra Nevada as the biggest storm of the season shut down a long stretch of Interstate 80 in California and gusty winds and heavy rain hit lower elevations, leaving tens of thousands of customers without power.

Up to 10 feet (3 meters) of snow is expected in some areas. The National Weather Service said early Saturday that widespread blowing snow was creating “extremely dangerous to impossible travel conditions.” The combination of snow and high winds was most intense in the Sierra Nevada, with more than 3 inches (7 centimeters) of snow falling per hour and wind gusts over 100 mph (161 kph).

“High to extreme avalanche danger” is expected in the backcountry through Sunday evening throughout the central Sierra, including the greater Lake Tahoe area, the weather service said.

California authorities on Friday shut down 100 miles (160 kilometers) of I-80 due to “spin outs, high winds, and low visibility.” They had no estimate when the freeway would reopen from the California-Nevada border just west of Reno to near Emigrant Gap, California.

Pacific Gas & Electric reported around 7 a.m. Saturday that 27,000 households and businesses were without power.

A tornado touched down Friday afternoon in Madera County and caused some damage to an elementary school, said Andy Bollenbacher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Hanford.

Some of the ski resorts that shut down Friday said they planned to remain closed on Saturday to dig out with an eye on reopening Sunday, but most said they would wait to provide updates Saturday morning.

Palisades Tahoe, the largest resort on the north end of Tahoe and site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, closed all chairlifts Saturday due to snow, wind and low visibility.

The storm began barreling into the region on Thursday. A blizzard warning through Sunday morning covers a 300-mile (480-kilometer) stretch of the mountains.

Some ski lovers raced up to the mountains ahead of the storm.

Daniel Lavely, an avid skier who works at a Reno-area home/construction supply store, was not one of them. He said Friday that he wouldn’t have considered making the hour-drive to ski on his season pass at a Tahoe resort because of the gale-force winds.

But most of his customers Friday seemed to think the storm wouldn’t be as bad as predicted, he said.

“I had one person ask me for a shovel,” Lavely said. “Nobody asked me about a snowblower, which we sold out the last storm about two weeks ago.”

Meteorologists predict as much as 10 feet (3 meters) of snow is possible in the mountains around Lake Tahoe by the weekend, with 3 to 6 feet (0.9 to 1.8 meters) in the communities on the lake’s shores and more than a foot (30 centimeters) possible in the valleys on the Sierra’s eastern front, including Reno.

Yosemite National Park closed Friday and officials said it would remain closed through at least noon Sunday.

___

Associated Press reporter Janie Har in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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Powerful storm in California and Nevada shuts interstate and dumps snow on mountains