A cold, fast-moving Pacific storm Thursday produced tornadoes, whiteouts, hail and rain before clearing the Sacramento area and much of the Sierra by early evening.
A tornado that initially touched down in the Browns Ravine area near Folsom Lake about 3 p.m. downed trees and caused some damage to homes, said Eric Kurth, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. Damage was reported in the area of Hill View, Hidden Acres and Mormon Island drives, south of Green Valley Road. The tornado then moved eastward, also touching down in Cameron Park, he said.
A tornado warning for portions of El Dorado and Amador counties was lifted about 4:30 p.m.
In the Sierra, Interstate 80 was closed to traffic for about an hour beginning around 2 p.m. due to whiteout conditions. Dave Wood, a Caltrans maintenance area superintendent, said he had feared a collision near Truckee that occurred about the same time might shut down the highway for several hours. That would have caused major traffic headaches with 15,000 to 20,000 motorists on the road between the Nevada state line and Auburn, he said. But crews were able to quickly clear the area and traffic was flowing well within about 90 minutes, Wood said.
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The collision near Truckee involved a California Highway Patrol cruiser that was totaled when it was struck by a vehicle while an officer was out of the vehicle with a disabled motorist, according to the CHP’s Truckee office. The officer reportedly was shaken up but was OK.
Hail also fell in some areas of the Valley and the foothills, closing a section of Highway 50 east of Placerville for a short time Thursday afternoon.
The Sacramento area saw rain and sunshine during the day. As of about 5 p.m., rainfall in the Sacramento area ranged from around 0.01 to 0.10 of an inch, Kurth said. Areas around Auburn reported as much as 0.20 inches, and areas south of Elk Grove recorded between 0.20 and about a third of an inch, he said.
The storm system was expected to move out of the region overnight, making way in the Sierra for a white – and mostly clear – Christmas.
The long holiday weekend looks good for skiers, snowboarders and others who want to play in the white stuff. The forecast for Blue Canyon, at 4,695 feet in elevation up Interstate 80, called for a 20 percent chance of Christmas Day snow. The weekend should wrap up with a sunny Saturday, followed by a mostly sunny Sunday.
Lake Tahoe ski resorts reported near-whiteout conditions most of Thursday.
“We are getting just buried – literally,” said Ashley Quadros, a spokeswoman for Tahoe Donner ski resort. She said the area got a foot of new snow at the base of the resort, but accumulation was much more significant at higher elevations. Tahoe Donner staff members had to dig out the “Drifter hut” stationed above 7,000 feet elevation.
Similarly, Northstar Ski Resort enjoyed a healthy dumping of snow.
“We got 18 inches and it’s still snowing,” said spokeswoman Marcie Bradley on Thursday afternoon. “Everyone is super-excited around the village. It’s light, fluffy, powdery snow.”
Homewood Mountain Resort at Lake Tahoe had all of its chairlifts operating, boasting a base of 4 feet.
“The series of winter storms we’ve received throughout the month have set us up to offer some of the best holiday-season snow conditions we’ve had in years,” said Kevin Mitchell, Homewood’s general manager.
Colfax and Auburn are among the foothill communities just below the snow level, but some are dreaming of a white Christmas.
“We are hoping for it,” said Colfax Mayor Kim Douglass. “We’re a ‘think snow’ kind of town.”
Douglass said it snows in Colfax – elevation 2,424 feet – about four times a year. When it does, the snow seldom “sticks.”
Bill Kirby, an Auburn city councilman, said he neither expects nor wants snow.
“I’m one of the guys that wants to stay clear of it,” Kirby said. At 1,227-feet elevation, Kirby said he’s happy to have access to snow without living in it.