SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – A wave of low pressure systems in the Pacific moved closer and closer to Northern California early Tuesday, bringing the risk of heavy rain and several feet of fresh snow to the Sierra well into the Christmas holiday weekend.
Showers in the San Francisco Bay Area were expected to begin in the afternoon hours on Tuesday, moving south from North Bay and lasting until Christmas Day.
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“We will see rain waves in the next few days, so rain now and then,” said KPIX 5 meteorologist Mary Lee. “Bring 1-3 inches through the holiday weekend.”
The National Weather Service said the jet stream howling across the Pacific is kicking the storm door wide.
“A low-pressure conveyor belt is moving into the area – this would mean a pretty wet end for 2021, but it’s a little too far away to care too much,” weather forecasters said. “That’ll be something to check in later this week.”
They predicted 2.3 inches of rain in San Francisco by December 25th.
“If verified, it will bring SF back to the top of the ten wettest water years to date by the end of the week,” the forecasters said.
The coastal mountains in North Bay could see 3-5 inches with up to 6 inches of rain over the higher peaks. In the Santa Cruz Mountains, areas that were already saturated with rain last week could fall another 3-6 inches.
“The good news is that the rain sums are spread over many days, which should mitigate the major effects,” tweeted the weather service. “But be prepared for minor floods, slippery roads and potential debris flows / mudslides.”
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In the Sierra, a winter weather warning comes into effect on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. and changes to a winter storm warning from Thursday morning to Sunday.
“Heavy snow expected (from Thursday),” warned the weather service in Reno. “Total snow accumulations from 2 to 4 feet up to 4 to 8 feet over 7,000 feet. Wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour, with the ridge gusts likely being over 100 miles per hour. “
For the thousands traveling from the Bay Area to Tahoe over the holiday weekend, it means it will be a slow journey.
“As soon as the snow starts tonight, traveling through the Sierra will become more and more difficult or almost impossible until the weekend,” warned the NWS Reno forecasters. “Be prepared for long delays and rapidly changing territory pass conditions.”
The mountain range, in which ski areas found it difficult to open this autumn, is already showing glittering peaks after the recent storms. Snowfall is important because the Sierra winter snowpack is usually a major source of California’s water.
“We recently had a big storm. We’ve just finished shoveling and all that, so let’s prepare for the next one, ”said Karla Brennan, owner of The Cork & More, a long-time deli, cheese and wine shop in South Lake Tahoe. “I think it will be a white Christmas.”
While the current wet trend is positive, it’s too early to know if it will last through January and February. Snow cover usually doesn’t peak until April and last spring there was minimal runoff as much of the water was taken up by the arid, arid landscape.
Forecasters noted that this week’s storms will also have the potential for significant low-altitude snow, including over Interstate 5 north of Redding, the northern region where last week’s storms crippled the vital freeway for nearly 24 hours.
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