Dangers to linger well after massive blizzard exits the Sierra Nevada

By Renee Duff,
Residents of northern and central California will be dealing with the effects of this weekend's massive snowstorm for days to come, forecasters warned. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Residents of northern and central California will be dealing with the effects of this weekend's massive snowstorm for days to come, forecasters warned. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

As a massive snowstorm inundated northern and central California over the weekend, forecasters warned that even after last snowflake falls in the high terrain lingering hazards will remain.

"The snow drifts are just going to be astronomical," AccuWeather's California Expert Ken Clark said before the storm unleashed feet of snow, snarled travel and stranded motorists in life-threatening conditions over Interstate 80's Donner Pass late Friday into Saturday.


"People that live in the Sierra, and there are quite a few people that live there or are vacationing there, are not going to be able to get out for some time to come," Clark said.

The heaviest precipitation will move across the Sierra Nevada through Sunday morning before tapering to snow showers. By the time the last snowflake falls, a total of 6-10 feet is expected to bury the highest peaks, including Donner Pass, Calif. The AccuWeather Local StormMax is an astounding 15 feet or 180 inches.


The storm, which produced wind gusts above 160 mph in the mountains Friday night, will continue to generate windy weather that will result in blowing and drifting snow. Wind gusts are expected to be lower than during the peak of the storm, but can still approach 100 mph in the highest terrain into Sunday.

Snow totals from the storm spanning Thursday, Feb. 29, through Sunday, March 3. (AccuWeather)

AccuWeather experts believe this single storm can wipe out the current Sierra snowfall deficit this season and could rank with some of the biggest that the region has ever experienced in modern times. A storm in January 1952 dropped a whopping 154 inches of snow at Donner Pass, with snow drifts piling up more than 3 stories high, according to the Truckee-Donner Historical Society.

As of Friday, snow water equivalent levels across California were pacing at 84 of the historical average, according to the California Department of Water Resources. This is a 4 increase from the day prior, and AccuWeather experts say this percentage will only continue to climb due to the heavy snow continuing this weekend.

"The snowpack that builds into the early spring over the Sierra Nevada is the lifeline for much of California's water supply through the year. The gradual melting snow later in the spring and summer keeps the streams flowing and tops off lakes and reservoirs," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.


AccuWeather forecasters are tracking another push of moisture that is expected to bring areas of rain and high-elevation snow to northern parts of the state Monday through Tuesday.

Additional snow can total a foot or more across the mountains of Northern California. Donner Pass is in for another round of accumulating snow and slippery travel, but in general, moisture will not spread as far south across the Sierra Nevada when compared to this weekend.

Around the middle of the week, this storm will drop into Central and Southern California but will not have as much moisture associated with it, resulting in lighter rain and mountain snow, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Elizabeth Danco.

The region will likely string together consecutive days of dry weather during the latter half of next week as snow removal operations continue in the hardest-hit areas.

In the days following the season's largest storm, residents and property owners will need to remain wary of the lingering dangers of the heavy snow accumulation.

"Effects from this storm can linger many days after the snow ends. Power outages as a result of the heavy snow and high winds can take multiple days and even longer in isolated areas to get resolved," Danco said.


Those in backwoods locations will need a safe means of heat and plenty of food, as roadways leading to these areas could be clogged with snow for days.

Experts warn that chimneys and exhaust from furnaces will need to be kept open to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

"Individuals are urged to remove snow from roofs as safely and quickly as possible as the weight of several feet of snow can result in structural collapse," Danco said.

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