Wet, wild, wicked
A wet, windy storm stalled traffic over the Sierra Thursday, dropping up to 42 inches of snow in the high country, after drenching much of California on its way east.
“On a scale from one to 10, with 10 being the biggest storm of the season, this is an eight or nine,” National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Fischer said.
Western Nevada County was relatively spared by the storm, with some snow at higher elevations but no serious-injury, weather-related accidents, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Chains were required on Highway 20 toward Truckee and to get over Donner Summit on Interstate 80. The wind-driven snow shut down U.S. 50 over Echo Summit for a time on Thursday. When it reopened, chains were mandatory.
The Grass Valley area had gotten less than an inch of rain by Thursday evening, according to a weather watcher. The previous day’s storm dropped about 1.75 inches of rain.
Rain showers are expected to continue today in western Nevada County’s lower elevations, with snow still falling in the high Sierra, according to the Qwikcast.com
Soda Springs Mountain Resort on Donner Summit reported 42 inches of snow Thursday. On the Nevada side, the National Weather Service said Mount Rose south of Reno picked up 36 inches.
Both the Nevada and California highway patrols were busy with spinouts and fender-benders in the snow-slammed elevations.
“But they’re noninjury accidents and no fatalities,” said Wendi Williams, a dispatcher with the Nevada Highway Patrol. “Mostly people sliding off the road due to slick conditions.”
In Reno, Wednesday’s steady rain turned to snow at sunset. The 1.12 inches of precipitation was a record for the date and represented one-seventh of the city’s annual 7.5-inch average. South Lake Tahoe got 1.55 inches of rain and snow.
Northern California was doused with wet and windy weather Thursday as the tail end of the storm moved east toward the Sierra. San Francisco, which recorded more than 2 inches of rain Wednesday, recovered from heavy flooding that resulted in a high number of accidents, traffic jams and property damage.
But flood warnings remained in effect along the coast from Mendocino to San Luis Obispo. Flood watches and high surf advisories were in effect for Mendocino, Sonoma, San Francisco, San Mateo, Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo counties.
Weather officials reported waves between 25 and 35 feet high – some of the highest seen in a decade – and warned that the giant swells could spill over onto coastal roads and properties.
In Sacramento, county workers were cleaning up downed trees and debris Thursday. About 160 trees were blown over during an eight-hour period Wednesday, causing numerous road closures, said Zeke Holst, spokesman for Sacramento County Public Works Agency.
On Thursday morning, swells measured 23 feet in the middle of Monterey Bay, compared to 7- to 12-foot swells on most winter days, said Phil Sammet, captain of Cypress Sea, a diving boat that canceled tours Wednesday and Thursday.
Southern California also was recovering from a Wednesday dousing that caused no major mudslides or flooding but created a slip-and-slide commute Thursday. More than 6 inches of rain fell in Ventura County, downtown Los Angeles recorded about 3 inches, and about 2 inches fell in most of Orange County.
The snow in the Sierra came at a crucial time for the mountain snowpack, which provides the bulk of summertime water across the region. Before the storm, its water content was only average for the date.
In four past dry winters, early storms left promising snowpacks that dwindled as precipitation dropped off after Christmas.
The Union staff contributed to this report.
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