Rain was falling in Sacramento and snow was causing travel troubles in the Sierra Nevada on Friday as a fairly cold winter storm swept into Northern California.
By Christmas Eve, snowfall will become insignificant in the mountains, according to the National Weather Service. And in Sacramento, the rain will clear the night before Christmas.
But before then, travel to the high country will be challenging with car chains most likely to be as common as ugly Christmas sweaters. The snow level is expected to be around 4,000 feet during the daylight hours, dropping to 2,500 feet Friday night.
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Snowfall amounts are pegged to come in at about 6 inches at the 4,000-feet level. At higher elevations such as Donner Pass and Echo Summit, up to 2 feet of snow could accumulate.
In Sacramento, on-and-off precipitation on Friday could produce up to about an inch of rain. Wind will blow all day, with afternoon gusts up to 25 mph. A slight chance of showers is predicted for Saturday before Christmas dawns mostly sunny with near-freezing temperatures.
Rainfall amounts as of 10 a.m.: 0.12 in Sacramento, 0.12 in Fair Oaks, 0.08 at Folsom Lake, 0.19 at Sacramento International Airport, 0.16 in Newcastle, 0.15 in Auburn, 0.12 in Elk Grove, 0.31 at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center and 0.27 in Herald.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning through 7 a.m. Saturday. The California Department of Transportation advises motorists traveling over the Donner or Echo summits Friday to be prepared for winter driving conditions, with snow and high winds.
For motorists, the Weather Service warns that it likely will mean slow going on the 65-mile stretch of Interstate 80 between Gold Run and Verdi. The areas between Alta and Gold Run, and between Verdi and Reno, could be affected as well.
Caltrans briefly closed Highway 50 mid-morning Friday at Echo Summit in both directions as crews worked to extricate an SUV that spun out and got wedged in some trees next to the road. There were no injuries in the crash, which left the vehicle on an embankment over the American River, being held by the trees from sliding farther down the hill.
Snow was heavy in the mountains as of mid-morning Friday. Officials are warning Friday travelers of potential several-hour delays over both summits.
“It’s a pretty heavy storm,” Caltrans spokesman Gilbert Mohtes-Chan said.
With chain controls in place, the speed limit on I-80 was 30 mph. It was 25 mph with chains required on Highway 50.
Caltrans officials remind mountain travelers to bring a flashlight, blankets and some food, and to make sure their vehicle is fueled and their cell phones are charged in case they get caught in a highway closure.
An avalanche watch is in effect through Saturday morning for the Sierra Nevada between Yuba Pass on the north and Ebbetts Pass on the south, including the Lake Tahoe Basin. The avalanche danger is expected to be high in many areas by Friday afternoon.
Caltrans said snow removal crews will be working throughout the storm on summit passes and other Caltrans-maintained roadways. Caltrans-trained chain installers on Interstate 80 can be identified by a reflective sign with their bib number.
In the Sacramento Valley, crews will monitor roadway drainage systems, and motorists are advised to anticipate possible detours resulting from flooded roadways.
The detailed, seven-day forecast from the weather service for the Sacramento region:
Friday: Rain. High near 51. South-southeast wind 9 to 14 mph increasing to 15 to 20 mph in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 25 mph.
Friday night: Rain likely before 11 p.m., then showers likely, mainly between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Cloudy, with a low around 38. South-southwest wind 6 to 9 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70 percent. New precipitation amounts of less than a tenth of an inch possible.
Saturday: A 30 percent chance of showers, mainly before 11 a.m. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 50. Calm wind becoming northwest 5 to 7 mph in the afternoon. New precipitation amounts of less than a tenth of an inch possible.
Saturday night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 33. Northwest wind around 6 mph becoming calm in the evening.
Christmas Day: Mostly sunny, with a high near 49. Calm wind becoming southeast 5 to 7 mph in the afternoon.
Sunday night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 33.
Monday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 49.
Monday night: Patchy fog after 5 a.m. Otherwise, partly cloudy, with a low around 32.
Tuesday: Patchy fog before 11 a.m. Otherwise, mostly sunny, with a high near 52.
Tuesday night: Patchy dense fog after 5 a.m. Otherwise, partly cloudy, with a low around 38.
Wednesday: Patchy dense fog. Otherwise, mostly sunny, with a high near 53.
Wednesday night: Patchy dense fog. Otherwise, partly cloudy, with a low around 36.
Thursday: Patchy dense fog. Otherwise, sunny, with a high near 54.