Strong winter storm to bring several feet of snow to Sierra Nevada, Lake Tahoe

An atmospheric river drawing moisture from the tropics is expected to blanket the Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe area with more than 3 feet of snow through the weekend, forecasters say.

The strong winter storm will start off light Friday night with snow levels at 7,500 to 8,000 feet through Saturday, said meteorologist Tony Fuentes of the National Weather Service in Reno. Up to 3 feet of snow could cover the Sierra crest.

A heavier band of moisture will pummel the area Saturday night into Sunday morning with snow levels quickly dropping to 5,000 feet, bringing about a foot of powder to the Lake Tahoe area, he said. The snowfall will continue through Monday and likely affect traffic through the mountain passes.

That's good news for California’s snowpack, which recently experienced a slight drop due to a dry spell that hit the state in the past few weeks, Fuentes said.

“Any snow is good,” Fuentes said. “Anything that we get now is beneficial.”

The state’s snowpack levels started off strong and above average in January. But snow levels are now hovering between average and slightly below average, he said.

Moisture levels were “rather disappointing” in California during February, according to meteorologist Dave Miskus of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.

Miskus, who authored the latest findings for the U.S. Drought Monitor report, said the average snow water equivalent on Feb. 1 for the northern, central and southern Sierra was 120%, 117% and 105% of normal, respectively.

All three areas had declined March 1 to 89%, 85% and 75%, respectively.

Despite the decline, Miskus remained optimistic.

The reservoirs, he said, were mostly stable due to carryover from January’s rainstorms and snow melting along low mountain elevations during February.

“The peak [snow water equivalents] in the Sierra normally occurs on April 1, so there is still March left to build the snowpack,” he wrote in his report.

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