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Rain and snow return to Southern California this weekend. How long will it last?

Rain in Encino
Nayer Shahram of Encino makes her way in the rain with a broken umbrella while walking on Louise Avenue in Encino as cars travel along the 101 Freeway earlier this month.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Santa Claus might want to get a new set of windshield wipers for his sleigh — just in case — because it’s looking like it may be a wet Christmas in California.

The first of two storm systems to hit the West Coast from the Gulf of Alaska is expected to arrive in Los Angeles on Sunday — just in time for the first day of winter — and linger through Monday. That storm is predicted to dump half an inch to an inch of rain across the Southland, said Andrew Rorke, a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

The rain is expected to let up slightly Christmas Eve, but there’s a chance of showers during the day as another system, also from the Gulf of Alaska, moves into the region, Rorke said.

“There is still quite a bit of uncertainty with the Christmas forecast. Right now, it’s looking like the Christmas morning will be dry, with an increasing chance of rain in the afternoon and at night,” he said.

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It’s still not clear how much rain the second storm system will bring to Southern California.

Snow levels Sunday and Monday are expected to hover about 6,000 feet before dropping to 5,000 feet midweek. The weekend storm is expected to provide 3 to 6 inches of fresh powder in the Southern California mountains by early Monday.

Thankfully, forecasters say, the snow levels will remain high enough that Santa and any holiday travelers shouldn’t have trouble getting through the Grapevine during the holiday rush.

“The good news is both storms look to be warm enough that they would not impede mountain travel,” Rorke said.

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But that also means those dreaming of a white Christmas will probably have to head out of Los Angeles to find it.

In Northern California, rain and snow will begin Saturday, with tire chain requirements possible in the mountains.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory from 10 p.m. Saturday to 10 p.m. Sunday for most of the Sierra Nevada, warning that travelers should expect significant delays during that time.

Five to 10 inches of snow are expected Sunday above 4,500 feet in the Sierra Nevada, with up to 15 inches south of Highway 50. The Coast Range and Cascades can expect 5 to 15 inches above 4,000 feet. In Shasta County, 5 to 10 inches could fall above 3,500 feet, with up to 20 inches over the higher peaks, according to the weather service.

The fresh powder comes amid what has already been a snowy start to the season. A series of storms in late November and early December that blanketed the Sierra Nevada in snow has built the state’s snowpack to its highest December level since 2015.

The snowpack — a key source of the state’s water supply — measured 113% of average this week, roughly 40% higher than the snowpack during the same time in 2018, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

Times staff writer Paul Duginski contributed to this report.


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