TRUCKEE (AP) — It’s shaping up as the biggest snowstorm to hit the Sierra mountains this year, with wind gusts of up to 100-plus miles per hour and Sierra Nevada ski resorts and businesses bursting with joy.
The National Weather Service said Thursday that it expects 1 to 2 feet of in the High Sierra and as much as 3 feet on the highest crests.
Dawn Johnson, a meteorologist in Reno, Nevada, said a second wave of the storm is expected Thursday night and could bring another five to 10 inches at Lake Tahoe and eight to 14 inches in higher elevations.
“It has been the biggest storm so far this season,” said Idamis Del Valle, a meteorologist with the weather service in Sacramento, California.
Another storm is expected to move in Saturday or Sunday, bringing another two feet of snow.
California needs all the snow and rain it can get, given four years of drought that have dried up reservoirs and left trees parched. Even a wet winter is not expected to end the drought, but the snow is good for business, say Tahoe-area ski resorts, property managers and mom-and-pop retailers.
“It’s full-on winter out here,” said Jerry Bindel, general manager of Aston Lakeland Village vacation condominiums in South Lake Tahoe. “This is great news all the way around.”
Rain fell overnight around Tahoe, but Thursday morning that turned to snow, dropping more than six inches, Bindel said. The storm adds to a snow season that already started strong.
In past years, guests at the lakeside condominiums have had to drive higher up in the mountains to take their children sledding. Not this year. “It’ll be more like a walk than a drive,” he said.
Trees lining the slopes at Northstar California Resort in Truckee are covered with snow, and the ski resort expects a pummeling overnight. “Everybody is extremely happy about that,” spokeswoman Marcie Bradley said.
She said the ski season is kicking off with conditions normally seen mid-season. “It’s wall-to-wall,” she said. “It’s not just a little strip you can ski down.”
Frozen rain and snow on roads also meant officers spent Thursday morning handling spin-outs and other accidents, said Officer Ruth Loehr of the South Lake Tahoe area office.
With several major storms coming through the area later this week, Yosemite National Park is closing Tioga Road for the season. The road reopens when weather conditions permit in the spring.
Rain and high winds also pounded parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, prompting warnings from the California Highway Patrol and flood advisories along highways. There also were high surf warnings.
Heavy rain in Sacramento early Thursday sent a Fed Ex big rig skidding out of control on Interstate 5, killing the driver of an oncoming pickup and snarling traffic for several hours. The CHP says the double-trailered truck appears to have hit water and hydroplaned out of control, the Sacramento Bee reported.
In Southern California, commuters were warned of potentially dangerous driving conditions on freeways after heavy fog descended on the region.
The poor visibility led to a six-hour ground stoppage at Los Angeles International Airport beginning Wednesday evening. Airport officials say dozens of arriving and departing flights were delayed or canceled before the stoppage was lifted around 1 a.m.
Some flights headed for LAX and Orange County’s John Wayne Airport were diverted to Ontario International Airport in San Bernardino County.