Old Man Winter isn't done with the western United States just yet. After all, it's only mid-March. Storms will crank up across several states beginning Friday, and they will be strong enough to result in potential road closures and power outages into early next week as snow falls hard and winds become wicked.
"Depending on if the snow plows can keep up with the heavy snowfall rates and the heavy winds and the low visibility…the California Highway Patrol may close the road [I-80] for a short period of time." – Alex Hoon, National Weather Service
A series of storm systems will be moving from the Pacific into the western U.S., producing periods of heavy snowfall in higher elevations of the Cascades, Sierra Nevada, northern Rockies and other ranges. The storms will hit the region from Saturday into at least next Monday, March 16. The abundant, long-lived precipitation will combine with strong winds to make conditions that much worse for truckers and freight movement.
Total snowfall accumulations of 6 to 12 inches will be common across many high terrain areas. However, other spots could see up to 24 inches and parts of the Sierra Nevada and northern Cascades may get buried in 3 to 4 feet of snowfall.
These storms may impact the Sierra Nevada mountains the most, from eastern California into western Nevada. Meteorologist Alex Hoon with the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Reno, Nevada told FreightWaves that the heaviest snowfall in this area will probably be Saturday night into Sunday. He also said storms of this magnitude happen fairly often this time of the year, even though the first day of spring is only one week away.
"It's not unusual for us to get big storms in the Sierra in March," Hoon said. "Actually, this is very common for us to see snow in the Sierra all the way through March into April and even into May."
Hoon added that it snows seven or eight months out of the year in this part of the country, but the snowiest months are typically December through March.
The NWS called March 2019 "miracle March" because it produced periods of heavy snow and rain all month. But the Sierras haven't had a substantial snowfall since December 2019 and have been in a drought since late January of this year. Hoon is looking forward to this upcoming multi-day storm.
"We need that snowpack. It's very important for our water supply, not only for Nevada but for California as well," Hoon stated.
But travel could become dangerous for truckers on Interstate 80, especially over Donner Pass and in the Lake Tahoe area. Wind gusts are forecast to reach 40 to 55 mph snowfall rates will be intense at times. Hoon said he expects chain controls at a minimum, but road closures aren't out of the question.
"Depending on if the snow plows can keep up with the heavy snowfall rates and the heavy winds and the low visibility…the California Highway Patrol may close the road [I-80] for a short period of time," Hoon said.
Snow levels could drop to valley floors Saturday night and Sunday, down to 3,500-4,000 feet. The heaviest snowfall will be along the Sierra Crest above 7,000 feet. At lake level in the Lake Tahoe area, look for 12 to 18 inches, including in the vicinity of Truckee, California.
Other trouble spots with possible road closures may include Snoqualmie and Lookout passes on I-90, as well as portions of I-5 in northern California.
Have a great day, and be careful out there!
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