The first of two winter storms set to thwack Northern California over the next few days will hit its climax Thursday, as forecasters expect heavy, low-falling snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains along with solid rain totals in the Sacramento Valley.
Between 1 to 3 feet of snow is expected in the mountains between Wednesday night and Friday morning, according to National Weather Service forecasts, which say snow will be possible as low as 2,000 feet, meaning it could fall in parts of the foothills.
A winter storm warning is in place through 10 a.m. Friday for the entire Sierra Nevada range, along with portions of many counties in the far northern reaches of the state. Gusts at high elevations could reach 65 mph, forecasts show.
The U.S. Forest Service Sierra Avalanche Center has also ordered an avalanche watch for the central Sierra, including the greater Lake Tahoe area, from 7 p.m. Thursday to 7 p.m. Friday. The warning includes areas bound by Yuba Pass on Highway 49 to Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4.
All mountain highways will be hampered by the snowstorm, with the weather service and other agencies strongly discouraging mountain travel.
The Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in a Wednesday forecast report described the first storm system as the product of a weak atmospheric river developing over Northern California. The second round of precipitation expected during the weekend will be from a separate low-pressure system.
PG&E in a statement Wednesday warned that precipitation and gusty winds could cause widespread power outages in Northern and Central California, especially in areas hit hard by snow.
“As with any wintry weather event, there is the potential of power outages due to rain, gusty winds and mountain snow,” Evan Duffey, a PG&E meteorologist, said in an emailed statement. “It’s always important for our customers to have an emergency plan in place for themselves and their families.”
Rain, cold morning temperatures coming to Sacramento
In Sacramento, forecasts call for up to an inch of rain Thursday, following between a quarter-inch and half-inch expected Wednesday night.
Overnight temperatures are expected to plunge to near-freezing Thursday and Friday nights in Sacramento.
Strong, southerly gusts could also kick up to about 30 mph.
Frost and patchy fog could develop Friday morning and Friday night.
When will the second storm arrive?
There will be a short reprieve from precipitation Friday, with both rain and snowfall expected to end before sunrise that morning, according to the weather service.
But snow and rain will resume Saturday and likely continue through at least Sunday as the second storm arrives.
The amounts and the timing of the second storm system are less settled, but the weather service says major impacts are expected to continue, especially for mountain travel.