A major winter storm system swept into the western U.S. this weekend, blanketing mountain areas with heavy snow before turning toward the south, where it is expected to bring severe weather, with high winds, hail and tornadoes.
More than 10 million people in more than a dozen states are below some level of winter weather warning as the powerful storm moves through the county.
Blizzard warnings extend from just west of Denver into the Dakotas, where whiteout conditions are expected to set in Monday evening through Tuesday, making travel nearly impossible in some locations.
The storm already brought avalanche warnings to parts of the west, closed major highways as conditions turned icy and caused flooding.
The storm blanketed some mountainous areas of drought-parched California with thick snow, including Soda Springs in the northern part of the state, which saw 2 feet of snow fall in 48 hours.
A multi-day severe storm threat begins Monday for parts of the south and south central US. A slight threat of severe weather has been issued for parts of western and central Kansas and Oklahoma into northwestern Texas.
The threat intensifies as the system moves east on Tuesday, likely affecting much of the Lower Mississippi River Valley. Areas including Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport in Louisiana and Jackson, Mississippi, could see tornadoes, high winds and damaging hail.
In addition, parts of Colorado’s plains are predicted on Tuesday to experience whiteout and blizzard conditions, the National Weather Service in Denver said.
To the east, residents of Fargo, North Dakota, are expected to receive more than six inches of snow and be under a winter storm watch late Monday night through late Wednesday night. Duluth, Minnesota, could also see six inches of snow and will be under a winter storm watch beginning Tuesday morning.
While the storm is sweeping across some areas, it is predicted to pass through drought-stricken areas and bring much-needed relief — including in the Mississippi River Valley area, which may see excessive rainfall on Wednesday.
Snowfall in the Sierra Nevada is already above average, according to the National Weather Service in Reno.
There were overnight winter storm warnings for the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where an extra foot of snow could fall at the highest elevations.
The storm already caused icy and dangerous conditions on the main roads on Saturday Close a long stretch of Interstate 80, from Colfax in Northern California to Stateline, Nevada, due to “driving snow and near-zero visibility,” said Caltrans, the state transportation agency at Twitter.
The Tahoe Basin and the Eastern Sierra see snowfall totals typically recorded in January.
“The snow cover is about 225% of normal, so it’s more than twice what we expect this time in December,” said Mark Deutschendorf, a forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Reno.
“It’s a lot like Christmas here,” Deutschendorf said. “It didn’t come with much wind, and it stuck to everything. It’s like a postcard.”
While noting that the snow totals are impressive so far, Deutschendorf said he is “cautiously optimistic” about this precipitation putting a big dent in the state’s drought.
“We had a similar storm last year. We had a nice lead and then January through March were incredibly dry,” explains Deutschendorf.
In California, 48 inches of snow fell at Twin Bridges in a 48-hour period over the weekend, 46 inches at Tahoe-Donner, 45 inches at Donner Peak and 44 inches at Palsades Tahoe Ski Base.
“We are buried,” the Palisades Tahoe Ski Resort wrote on its website Sunday, sharing photos of thick snow blanketing the ski resort in Olympic Valley, California.
“This is definitely a storm to remember. We have now received 2.5 meters of snow since December 1st. In addition, we received more than 14 inches of snow in just 24 hours from Saturday morning to Sunday morning — the 6th largest snowfall total in 24 hours on record,” resort operators wrote.