Powerful storm hits California

Mar. 3: A powerful blizzard raged overnight into Saturday in the Sierra Nevada as the biggest storm of the season shut down a long stretch of Interstate-80 in California and gusty winds and heavy rain hit lower elevations, leaving tens of thousands of customers without power.

Up to 10 feet (3 metres) of snow is expected in some areas. The National Weather Service in Reno said late Friday it expects the heaviest snow to arrive after midnight, continuing with blizzard conditions and blowing snow through Saturday that could reduce visibility to one-quarter mile or less.

“High to extreme avalanche danger” is expected in the backcountry through Sunday evening throughout the central Sierra, including the greater Lake Tahoe area, the weather service said.

California authorities on Friday shut down 100 miles (160 kilometres) of I-80 due to “spin outs, high winds, and low visibility.” They had no estimate when the freeway would reopen from the California-Nevada border just west of Reno to near Emigrant Gap, California.

Pacific Gas & Electric reported around 10 p.m. Friday that 24,000 households and businesses were without power.

A tornado touched down Friday afternoon in Madera County and caused some damage to an elementary school, said Andy Bollenbacher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Hanford.

Some of the ski resorts that shut down Friday said they planned to remain closed on Saturday to dig out with an eye on reopening Sunday, but most said they would wait to provide updates Saturday morning.

Palisades Tahoe, the largest resort on the north end of Tahoe and site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, said it hoped to reopen some of the Palisades slopes at the lowest elevation on Saturday but would close all chairlifts for the second day at neighbouring Alpine Meadows due to forecasts of “heavy snow and winds over 100 mph” (160.9 kph).

“We have had essential personnel on-hill all day, performing control work, maintaining access roads, and digging out chairlifts, but based on current conditions, if we are able to open at all, there will be significant delays,” Palisades Tahoe said Friday on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The storm began barreling into the region on Thursday. A blizzard warning through Sunday morning covers a 300-mile (482-kilometre) stretch of the mountains.

Some ski lovers raced up to the mountains ahead of the storm.

Daniel Lavely, an avid skier who works at a Reno-area home/construction supply store, was not one of them. He said Friday that he wouldn’t have considered making the hour-drive to ski on his season pass at a Tahoe resort because of the gale-force winds.

But most of his customers Friday seemed to think the storm wouldn’t be as bad as predicted, he said.

Meteorologists predict as much as 10 feet (3 meters) of snow is possible in the mountains around Lake Tahoe by the weekend, with 3 to 6 feet (0.9 to 1.8 meters) in the communities on the lake’s shores and more than a foot (30 centimetres) possible in the valleys on the Sierra’s eastern front, including Reno.

Yosemite National Park closed Friday and officials said it would remain closed through at least noon Sunday.

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