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Big storm expected to dump heavy snow in Sierra Nevada

Big storm expected to dump heavy snow in Sierra Nevada
A worker takes a breather from directing a bulldozer driver who clears mud from the 101 freeway in Montecito on January 16, 2018. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A winter storm system is heading to California, and is expected to bring the first significant snow to the northern Sierra Nevada since November, but spare Southern California the threat of mudslides.

On Thursday, rain is forecast for the San Francisco Bay Area, while the Sierra is expected to see heavy snowfall by Thursday afternoon into Friday morning. The highest elevations of the Sierra could get 1½ feet to 2 feet of snow, while the elevation at Lake Tahoe could get perhaps half a foot of snow, said meteorologist Mark Faucette of the National Weather Service's Reno office.

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The northern Sierra Nevada has seen a disappointing snow season so far; a webcam at Truckee airport shows no snow accumulated on the ground.

"In the pantheon of big Sierra storms, it's not a huge Sierra storm. But when you compare it to rest of what's gone on the rest of this winter, it's significant," Faucette said.

In Santa Barbara County, forecasters said that less than 0.1 inches of rain is expected to fall on Montecito, which suffered through deadly mudslides this month. "That amount of rain should not be a problem. There's always a concern anytime we have precipitation coming in … but we're pretty confident that it's going to be an amount that shouldn't cause problems," said meteorologist Kathy Hoxsie of the weather service's Oxnard office.

There is a chance of snow on the surface of the Grapevine. But rainfall amounts in the L.A. area are not expected to be particularly impressive. Orange County and the Inland Empire are probably going to see 0.1 inches of rain or less, and the mountains in San Bernardino County are expected to get as little as a dusting of snow to as much as 2 inches.

"It's not bringing a whole lot of moisture with it," said meteorologist Philip Gonsalves with the weather service's San Diego office. The storm that brought the mudslides to Montecito was able to access moisture from the subtropical region of the Pacific Ocean, but the upcoming storm is not.

In Los Angeles, 1.89 inches of rain has fallen since the water year began on Oct. 1, short of the average of 5.79 inches for this time of the season. San Francisco has seen 7.23 inches of rain in the same time period, short of the average of 11.33 inches for this point in the water year.

"This last big storm system helped quite a bit," said meteorologist Duane Dykema with the weather service's Monterey office, "but we're still well behind normal for this time of year."

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