A major Christmas storm caused whiteout conditions and closed key highways in the mountains of northern California and Nevada, with forecasters warning that travel in the Sierra Nevada could be difficult for several days.
Rainstorms also continued to hit parts of southern California. The conditions were difficult but welcome developments in a parched state where the Sierra snowpack had been at dangerously low levels after weeks of dry weather.
The state department of water resources reported on Christmas Eve that the snowpack was between 114% and 137% of normal across the Sierra range, with more snow expected.
On Friday night into Saturday, 20in of snow fell at Homewood on Lake Tahoe’s west shore. About a foot was reported at Northstar near Truckee and 10in at the Mount Rose ski resort on the southwest edge of Reno.
A 70-mile stretch of Interstate-80 was shut on Sunday from Colfax, California, through the Lake Tahoe region to the Nevada state line. The California transportation department closed other mountain routes while warning of poor visibility and slippery conditions.
Rockslides caused by heavy rain closed more than 40 miles of coastal Highway 1 in the Big Sur region, south of the San Francisco Bay Area. There was no estimate for the reopening of the scenic stretch that is frequently shut after wet weather.
“Expect major travel delays on all roads,” the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Reno, Nevada, said on Twitter. “Today is the type of day to just stay home if you can. More snow is on the way too!”
The NWS issued a winter storm warning for greater Lake Tahoe until 1am Tuesday because of possible “widespread whiteout conditions” and wind gusts that could top 45mph.
The latest in a series of blustery storms hit southern California with heavy rain and wind that flooded streets and knocked down power lines late on Saturday.
Gusts toppled trees, damaged carports and blew a track-and-field shed from a Goleta high school into a front yard two blocks away, according to the Santa Barbara county fire department. No injuries were reported.
More than 1.8in of rain fell over 24 hours in San Marcos pass in Santa Barbara county, while Rocky Butte in San Luis Obispo county recorded 1.61in, the NWS said.
In the San Bernardino Mountains, east of Los Angeles, crews were repairing a section of State Route 18 that washed down a hillside after heavy rain on Thursday. The closure of the major route into the Big Bear ski resort area could last for weeks, officials said.
Los Angeles international airport said a “storm-related electrical issue” forced a partial closure of Terminal 5, causing passengers to divert to other terminals.
“Cancellations and delays are possible, so it will be important to check your flight status today if flying through Terminal 5,” LAX tweeted.