SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A forecast of more intense snowfall and powerful winds in the Sierra Nevada has prompted authorities to issue blizzard and avalanche warnings on Sunday and say that conditions in the mountains could become “life-threatening.”
A winter storm sweeping across California and Nevada has dumped as much as 8 feet (2.4 meters) of snow over the past two days. Much more is expected in the next two days as additional cold weather systems will bring widespread snow and showers.
The National Weather Service said 8 feet (2.4 meters) fell at the June Mountain Ski resort north of Mammoth Lakes and up to 3 feet (0.9 meters) were reported in the resorts around Lake Tahoe since Friday.
Forecasters said a blizzard from Sunday night to Monday night could bring another 5 feet (1.5 meters) around Lake Tahoe and another 8 feet (2.4 meters) to the highest elevations, and light snow down to the foothills.
The forecast called for winds gusting as high as 50 mph (80 kph) at the lake level, and up to 100 mph (161 kph) over mountain ridges.
“Do not attempt to travel!” the warning said. “Road crews and first responders may not be able to rescue you. Stay indoors until the snow and wind subside. Even a short walk could be deadly if you become disoriented.”
The avalanche warning was issued for the backcountry areas on the Nevada side of the range as well as in the greater Lake Tahoe area.
“There’s been so much snow at once, it doesn’t have a chance to pack down, leading to very unstable ground,” said Cassie Leahy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno.
The Sierra is already loaded with snow from a series of storms in January.
The storms battered California on Saturday, shutting key highways after water and mud rushed into lanes from bare hillsides scarred by wildfires. In Santa Barbara county, residents living near the fire scars were ordered to evacuate, and by Sunday they were allowed to return home as the rain and threats of mudslides diminished.
A wind gust in Santa Barbara County topped 80 mph (128 kph) as the storm moved south and at one point dropped more than a half-inch (1.27 centimeters) of rain in five minutes. Trees and power lines were down across the region.
In Malibu, where the Woolsey fire last year destroyed homes and burned hillsides bare, officials closed Pacific Coast Highway and many other roadways after mud carried trees and rocks into lanes. Residents whose homes survived the flames barricaded their properties with sandbags to protect their properties from floodwaters.
The California Department of Transportation said Saturday night in a tweet that the both the northbound southbound lanes of U.S. 101, a vital route between Los Angeles and points north and west, have been reopened. Earlier Saturday, in the Montecito area of Santa Barbara County, several miles of U.S 101 were closed because of flooding.
It has only been a little over a year since a downpour on the huge Thomas Fire burn scar unleashed a massive debris flow that destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes in the seaside community of Montecito. The disaster killed 21 people, and two others have never been found.
Rescue crews scrambled Saturday to pluck motorists from cars caught in rising waters, said Mike Eliason, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. He urged drivers who come upon flooded intersections to find alternate routes.
The National Park Service warned visitors to Yosemite National Park of possible road closures and advised drivers to bring tire chains in the event of snow or icy conditions.
The weather service lifted flash-flood watches for areas burned by the Mendocino Complex, Camp and Carr wildfires in Northern