More than 10 million people are on a winter watch in at least nine western states, including cities like Seattle and Salt Lake City, as a winter storm sweeps through the region.
The storm will bring up to 30 inches of snow in the drought-stricken Sierras but will make travel “difficult or impossible.”
“Back-to-back winter storms will bring a period of very difficult to impossible travel over Sierra Pass on Sunday,” said the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Reno.,
Snow and rain should begin to subside Friday over most areas before the next storm system moves in late Saturday night/Sunday.
Snow rates could reach 2 to 3 inches per hour early Thursday and Friday. This, combined with high winds, can produce near-zero visibility conditions.
start of winter
“Today is the first day of meteorological winter, and it feels like it in the Pacific Northwest,” the NWS Portland office said.
While about 1 meter of snow could fall in California, 12 to 24 inches of widespread snow is expected in places like Montana, Utah and the Colorado Mountains in the Rockies. Heavy rainfall can exceed 100 mm along the coast.
A mix of rain and snow is expected for cities like Seattle and Portland. Although this will limit the amount of snow that can accumulate on the ground, it will still cause travel problems due to muddy roads, and sub-zero temperatures will create patches of black snow.
For the city of Seattle, only 1 to 2 inches of snow is expected to fall through Saturday, with a winter weather advisory through Friday night. This would be significant snow and would be quite rare for Seattle, a city that receives the same amount of snow (9 cm) per year as Little Rock, Arkansas. In fact, this early winter storm could cause Seattle to record more than half of its annual snowfall.
A winter weather advisory has also been issued for Billings and Missoula, Montana, where snowfall of between 2.5 to 7 cm and 7 to 15 cm are expected, respectively.
For Reno, Nevada, height is everything. In the city itself and along the slopes, expect 2.4 to 10 cm, but once you exceed 5,000 feet in elevation, the forecast drops to 7 to 17 cm.
Salt Lake City will also record a few inches of snow in the city, with 2 to 4 inches of snow expected. However, totals in the mountains including Park City will be closer to 12 inches.
In Aspen, Colorado, which is under an avalanche watch through Saturday morning, skiers can expect 5 to 10 inches.
Back-to-back winter storms will bring a period of very difficult to impossible travel on the Sierra Pass into Sunday. See our Winter Storm Warning for additional information: https://t.co/Hlck0YYqz8. Check with Caltrans for up-to-date road information: https://t.co/rYQgfWT4N2. #Kavax pic.twitter.com/E2egHY3G8Q
— NWS Reno (@NWSReno) November 30, 2022
The heaviest snow will fall in the Sierra Range, where places like Mammoth Mountain and Mount Shasta are expected to see 20 to 30 inches of rain.
Therefore the NWS Reno office urges the public to avoid all non-essential travel during the high impact period.
Bright start to snow season, still a long way to go
Although it can cause a lot of displacement problems, all that snow is good for one thing: helping with drought. But one blizzard doesn’t mean the whole season will be the same.
Last year, California had its wettest start to the year in more than 40 years. However, precipitation stabilized quickly and the season’s snow cover was only 35% of what would normally be expected.
Regarding snowpack conditions in the area at this time, the Natural Resources Conservation Service SNOTEL network is currently reporting the following snow water equivalent percentages for the area in the latest update (November 29):
Pacific Northwest 134%
Great Basin 157%
Lower Colorado 152%
Upper Colorado 98%
While these numbers are a rough start, they need to stay that way to make a big impact on the drought situation, and in turn the water supply, that has been plaguing the West for decades.