TRUCKEE (AP) — Snow fell in the Sierra Nevada on the last day of summer, giving the towering mountain range shared by California and Nevada a wintry look in September and making travel hazardous.
Sixteen vehicles crashed on Interstate 80 as snow and hail fell Thursday, killing a man driving a pickup truck and causing minor injuries to a few other people, said California Highway Patrol Officer Chris Nave.
Snow dusted peaks in Yosemite National Park, briefly closing Tioga Pass road, the soaring eastern entry to the park that typically doesn’t become impassable until mid-November. Park rangers urged drivers to remain cautious after the road reopened.
Fog and clouds along the route covered most of the mountain peaks and steam rose from lakes in some areas, prompting drivers to stop frequently to take photos.
Snow also fell in Mammoth Lakes on Thursday evening, creating slick roads and giving the popular ski resort town more or a winter look than one reflecting the last day of summer.
Several inches of snow were expected at elevations of at least 6,000 feet in the northern Sierra, said National Weather Service forecaster Hanna Chandler in Sacramento.
“The last days of summer,” the Placer County Sheriff’s Office wryly tweeted in a post showing snow falling on patrol vehicles at its Lake Tahoe station.
Sugar Bowl, a ski resort perched atop Donner Summit, received a good snow dusting that’s getting skiers excited about the upcoming ski season, said resort spokesman Jon Slaughter.
“We’ve got people calling about season passes and checking our webcams to take a look at the first snow,” Slaughter said.
Slaughter, however, didn’t anticipate the storm having much of an impact on how early the resort can open because the snow will likely melt.
But the first snow of the season came just four months after Sugar Bowl’s last ski season ended with nearly 800 inches (20 meters) of snowfall, part of a very wet winter that gave California at least a temporary respite from years of drought that left the Sierra with scant snowcaps.
At Oroville Dam, where crews are rushing to repair two badly damaged spillways before California’s winter rainy season starts in earnest, dam operators were keeping an eye on forecasts.
“We’re definitely tracking the weather but it has had no impact and we don’t expect it to,” said Erin Mellon, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Water Resources.
The taste of winter was not expected to last long.
“Fall is a big transition period so we have these big dips in temperature and then we go higher,” said Chandler, the forecaster. “It’s kind of a weather rollercoaster.”
Southern California also took an early leap into fall, with cloudy skies and rain showers across the region in advance of the autumnal equinox at 1:02 p.m. Friday.
The region was also expecting a warm-up next week with the onset of seasonal Santa Ana winds, the warm and dry gusts that blow from the interior and out to sea and often fan the worst of Southern California’s wildfires.
A season outlook issued by the National Interagency Fire Center predicts a near-normal number of Santa Ana wind days through November.
Large fire potential will be above normal because of the abundance of grass spawned by last winter’s heavy rains, the center said.