California warned to brace for “life-threatening” blizzard conditions, with up to 8 feet of snow

The early signs of spring might be visible in many parts of the country, but in California’s Sierra mountains, winter is still firmly in control.

Forecasters are warning residents of that area, including Lake Tahoe, to brace for “life-threatening blizzard conditions” as a major winter storm brings strong winds and heavy snow of up to three feet in some areas—and as much as 8 feet in higher elevations.

“Sierra travel will be treacherous, with a period of life-threatening blizzard conditions sandwiched in for Friday afternoon through Saturday morning,” the National Weather Service said in an alert Thursday morning. “Travel is highly discouraged in these conditions.”

Blizzard warnings are rare in Tahoe, but a year ago the area saw two feet of snow fall in 24 hours, with winds of up to 50 mph. The state has seen record rain and snow for over a year now.

This storm could see wind gusts on ridge tops exceed 100 mph, forecasters warned—and snow is expected to fall at a rate of 1-3 inches per hour starting this morning and throughout the weekend. Snow amounts will be difficult to measure, they warn, because the strong winds will result in drifts occurring.

And forecasters are using unusually blunt language to warn people of the severity of the storm.

“For Sierra locations, don’t get caught up in the ‘worst conditions’ timeframe. It is going to be really bad throughout the entire event!” the NWS said Wednesday afternoon.

The worst conditions are likely to hit from Friday evening through Saturday morning, with snowfall rates of up to 3-5 inches per hour.

The snow’s expected to stop Sunday, but that reprieve could be a short one. Forecast models show the possibility of another winter weather system hitting the area beginning Monday, which would last through the middle of the week. While it won’t be as strong as this weekend’s, the NWS points out “it has the potential to yield some additional snowfall.”

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