Fierce winter storm that hit West reaches California

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A winter storm that slammed the western United States (US) was barrelling through California yesterday, bringing threats of flooding, avalanches and blinding, blowing snow on roads in the Sierra Nevada.

Heavy rain began falling on Monday and the National Weather Service issued flood warnings and flash flood watches for the San Francisco Bay Area and many parts of the Sacramento area into tomorrow morning.

The latest storm will be a “marathon rather than a sprint,” the weather service predicted.

Some small creeks and streams had flooded and the weather service warned that the Napa and Russian rivers were likely to overflow their banks by today.

However, while some areas could see 15 centimetres of rain or more over the next two days — and as much as 30.5 centimetres in some local mountains — “the intensity won’t be fierce enough to cause devastating mudslides in areas denuded by a string of devastating wildfires, such as Shasta and Lake counties,” the weather service said.

Even so, some areas remained on alert. Sonoma County, where some areas were scarred by 2017 wildfires, activated its Emergency Operations Center.

“This is the time to locate your emergency kits and review your evacuation plans with your family,” said chair of the county Board of Supervisors David Rabbitt.

Women walk in the rain toward a federal court building in San Francisco. – AP

In the Sierra Nevada along the California-Nevada line, forecasters warned of possible whiteout conditions from blowing snow in the high passes. The mountains could see up to 2.44 metres of snow at higher elevations and winds gusting to 225kph over ridgetops.

“Heavy snow and gale force winds will create dangerous avalanche conditions” into tomorrow morning for the Lake Tahoe area, the National Weather Service warned.

Several mountain highways, including Interstate 80 at Donner Summit, were repeatedly closed for short periods on Monday because of spinouts or avalanche concerns.

The storm already has barrelled through other parts of the West, toppling trucks and trees, triggering power outages and closing roads and schools from Oregon to Montana.

Snow forced flight cancellations at the Portland airport, and prompted a blizzard warning for parts of Montana, where Butte public schools cancelled classes yesterday for the first time in at least 20 years.

Buses were getting stuck, and a superintendent told The Montana Standard that the district’s snowploughs haven’t been able to keep up.

A power outage struck several thousand people in the Reno-Sparks area of Nevada.

The storm is the latest in a string that has dumped record levels of snow and rain this winter.