A cold, wet holiday season will continue this week with two winter storms hitting southern California and northern California struggling with heavy accumulations of snow and landslides that have shut off the Tahoe area.
For the record:
12.56 27 December 2021An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that California’s new December snowfall record was 193.7 feet of snow, measured by the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab and breaks the previous record of 179 feet of snow from 1970. These measurements are in inches, not feet. .
The first storm in southern California arrived in the Los Angeles region Monday afternoon, with another storm expected Tuesday night that could continue until Friday morning. Significant rainfall, snow in the mountains and gusts of wind are likely, as are local floods, waste streams and further travel delays. The outlook for the end of the week is uncertain, but New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles is expected to be cold and dry.
Meanwhile, all major roads in and out of Tahoe are closed down, stranding skiers and other travelers.
“Right now, no one is in or out of the Tahoe area,” said Steve Nelson, a Caltrans spokesman in El Dorado, Tahoe and Placer counties. “Highways, everything’s shut down.”
Joe Sirard, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service in Oxnard, described Monday’s storm as a “fast-hitter” that will move through LA County in about six or eight hours, with only light rain and snow showers lingering after about 6 p.m.
But the front will bring temperatures in the 40s and 50s and mountain levels to 2,500 to 3,500 feet. Travel along Highway 5 through Grapevine could become crooked, said officials.
The incoming system has requested one winter storm warning in the mountains of Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Bernardino counties until late Monday. Heavy snow, gusts of wind, icy roads and low visibility will create dangerous driving conditions at higher altitudes, and residents are advised to avoid traveling if possible.
“If you have to travel, you need to have an extra flashlight, food and water in your vehicle in case of an emergency,” the warning say.
ONE freeze clock was also issued for the Santa Clarita Valley and Ventura County valleys from late Monday night to Tuesday morning. Night frost advice may be issued for the Central Coast, the southern coast of Santa Barbara County and the coast of Ventura County.
The storm has already created problems for the inhabitants of Northern California, where active rock slides and rising snow have created a mess of travel and contributed to significant dangers.
Nelson of Caltrans said authorities are warning travelers to stay away from mountain highways and highways. Interstate 80, Highway 50, Highway 89 and all alternative routes will be closed until road staff can clear them, he said.
“It’s not just about clearing snow,” Nelson said. “We have fallen trees and power lines. Other departments and utilities are coming in. We are working as fast as we can.”
More than 100 trees have been knocked down on Highway 50, and crashed power lines pose a significant risk on Interstate 80, he said.
Anyone staying in the Lake Tahoe area should stay in place until authorities have made the roads and highways safe to travel again, Nelson said.
Monday night, there was no estimated reopening time, he said. Travelers should check Caltran’s website, dot.ca.gov, call (800) 427-7623 or check Caltran’s social media accounts for updates.
In Truckee, Placer County, search and rescue teams are searching for a skier who disappeared on Christmas Day. Rory Angelotta, 43, was last seen heading up a ski lift Saturday morning, officials said. Conditions have hampered search efforts, and another storm is expected to hit the area on Monday.
“We’ve had uninterrupted rather harsh weather conditions since Saturday night, Christmas Eve, and that’s made it very difficult for rescuers at all to get up here, let alone get out there and get out to search,” said Sgt. Mike Powers of Placer County Sheriff’s Department.
Caltrans map of road closures Monday was filled with icons indicating closed roads – especially through the Sierra Nevada, where up to 4 feet of snow has made mountain travel nearly impossible. An avalanche warning in central Sierra Nevada will remain in effect until Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, Interstate 80 was closed from Colfax to Nevada’s state line due to poor visibility, without it being estimated to reopen. Videos posted of the California Highway Patrol showed near whiteout conditions on the highway.
Authorities near Reno said three people were injured in one 20 cars pileup on Interstate 395 Sunday, and Highway 50 remained closed near Placerville due to heavy snow.
Closer to the coast, several segments of Highway 1 around San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties were closed by tossing rocks, with officials giving few estimates for reopening.
And in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles County, crews worked Monday to repair part of State Route 18, which washed down a hillside during heavy rain. The road could remain closed in both directions from 40th Street to Highway 138 “for several days, if not weeks,” Caltrans said.
Despite the dangers and headaches, the storms bring the much-needed moisture to drought-dried California. UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab said Monday that recent 24-hour snow totals brought the area to a new December record: 193.7 inches of snow, breaking the previous record of 179 inches of snow from December 1970.
Meteorologist Sirard said downtown Los Angeles has received 5.62 inches of rainfall since the start of the water year, which begins Oct. 1, thanks to the December bulletin board. The normal value for the date is 3.28 inches.
“Just because [the season] had a wet start, that does not mean it will continue, but we hope it does, ”said Sirard. “It would be extremely beneficial for California. We so desperately need the rain, so we all hope and pray that this rain will continue.”
The outlook calls for more rain and snow in the LA area this week, though forecast models do not yet agree on the exact time of the second storm, or how much precipitation it will deliver.
Sirard said recent forecasts indicate that the storm will arrive in Los Angeles late Tuesday night and that rain will be widespread across the region on Wednesday.
There is less agreement on what comes next.
“The jury is still out as to exactly what kind of weather we’ll get Thursday and Thursday night,” Sirard said, but the system is potentially a “long-running event” that could stall over the area and create a rainy, snow-covered pattern in a few days.
There are indications that showers will last until Thursday and even stay by Friday morning, he said.
Friday night – New Year’s Eve – rain and snowfall are expected to disappear in Los Angeles and start 2022 with cool but dry conditions.
Times staff writer Gregory Yee contributed to this report.