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Winter storms to sweep across California, bringing snow and rain to holiday travel

Snow on a freeway sign and a hillside next to an overpass
Snow covers Gorman on Dec. 14 as a cold storm passes through Southern California. Forecasters said Monday that a series of storms is expected to bring more snow to California’s mountains leading up to Christmas.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

A series of storms is expected to sweep across California this week, bringing snow and rain, and complicating travel in the days leading up to Christmas.

Winter storm warnings are in effect for the Sierra Nevada from 4 p.m. Wednesday to 4 p.m. Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

The weather service’s Sacramento office expects “widespread rain and mountain snow chances” to return Tuesday, with snow levels starting around 3,000 to 4,500 feet.

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“Expect significant holiday travel delays, with hazardous conditions expected,” the office tweeted. “Heaviest snow is expected Wednesday evening through the weekend.”

The agency’s Reno office urged travelers to plan ahead and said there will be “few, if any, meaningful breaks” for the Sierra once the first storms arrive Tuesday.

The Sierra and areas above 6,500 feet will see periods of significant snowfall starting late Tuesday and continuing through the weekend, forecasters said.

Thursday and the weekend are expected to bring the worst conditions, forecasters said.

Mono County, including the cities of Bridgeport, Coleville and Mammoth Lakes, could see 1 to 2 feet of snow, with areas above 7,000 feet and west of Highway 395 getting 3 to 7 feet, according to the weather service’s Reno office.

Wind gusts could reach 50 mph and gusts along the Sierra crest could exceed 100 mph, forecasters said.

The National Weather Service said the slow-moving storm broke several rainfall records for the date. Downtown L.A. saw more than 2 inches of rain by noon.

In the greater Lake Tahoe area, forecasters expect 2 to 4 feet of snow, though 4 to 8 feet could fall at elevations above 7,000 feet.

Gusts could reach 40 mph with ridges seeing gusts exceeding 100 mph, forecasters said.

Total snowfall between 2 and 5 feet is expected in the Sierra from Yosemite National Park to Lake Isabella, with localized accumulations of up to 8 feet possible at higher elevations, forecasters said.

Coastal areas, meanwhile, will see light to moderate rainfall.

The weather service’s San Francisco Bay Area office expects 2 to 3 inches of rain to fall over much of the region.

San Jose and Livermore could see 1½ to 2 inches of rain, forecasters said. Santa Cruz could see 3 to 4 inches, and Big Sur could see 4 to 6 inches.

Forecasters for the Los Angeles area and Central Coast expect 1 to 3 inches of rain along the coast and valleys and 2 to 4 inches in mountain areas from Wednesday to Sunday. The heaviest rain is expected Wednesday and Thursday.

Snow levels will remain above 7,000 feet through Thursday, lowering to 5,000 to 6,000 feet Friday and Saturday, and descend to 4,000 feet by Sunday, forecasters said.

Travelers and commuters should prepare for delays caused by slick roadways and ponding water, forecasters said. Mudflows and landslides are possible on mountain roads.

The series of storms comes a week after a powerful weather system slammed California, bringing record-setting rain to the Los Angeles area that snarled traffic, felled trees and closed roads.


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