Watch snowplows cut through Sierra snowfall on Highway 50
A major storm from the north is bringing heavy snow to the Sierra Nevada and heavy rain to the Sacramento area.
Here's the latest on the winter storm affecting Sacramento, Lake Tahoe and all of Northern California:
Caltrans announced that I-80 has been reopened to car traffic only, nearly three hours after whiteout conditions prompted closure of a 70-mile stretch of the interstate in both directions.
The agency said trucks are still being held at the Nevada state line and the Colfax-Applegate area.
Other road closures include Highway 88, which has been shut near the Kirkwood ski resort.
While most of the storm-related problems are in the Sierra Nevada, where whiteout conditions have forced the closure of a major stretch of I-80, rainfall continues to accumulate at lower elevations.
Sacramento has received a little more than 1.1 inches of rain since the storm began late Wednesday afternoon. Almost all of Sacramento's rain has come since midnight, the National Weather Service said.
Chico has gotten nearly 1.6 inches of rain since Wednesday. About a quarter-inch has fallen in Stockton and Modesto.
Utility repair crews continue to wrestle with power outages in the Sacramento area and throughout Northern California.
SMUD said 1,288 customers were without power shortly after noon. More than 500 were without power in Courtland, and scattered outages were reported in Orangevale, Carmichael and Fair Oaks.
PG&E said a power outage that began shortly before noon in the Penryn area left nearly 1,900 customers without power. More than 360 customers are without power in Davis.
Whiteout conditions prompted Caltrans to close Interstate 80 between Colfax and the Nevada state line indefinitely.
All eastbound traffic is being re-routed at Colfax, the agency said in a tweet, although a Caltrans map says the road isn't closed until Applegate, a few miles up the road.
Caltrans reports Highway 20 also has been closed east of Grass Valley. Highway 4 is closed east of Ebbetts Pass in Alpine County.
This is the first I-80 closure this winter. Last year, I-80 closed for several days during heavy storms and landslides.
Caltrans is saying the closure could last for several hours, as heavy snowfall and high winds are expected to continue through the afternoon.
“We can’t say when we will reopen,” said Liza Whitmore, Caltrans spokeswoman. “It’s all fluid right now.”
Fretting about major flooding in the Sacramento area? Don't. It's been such a dry winter so far, the major rivers aren't in any danger of over-topping their banks.
The Sacramento River at I Street in downtown Sacramento is at just 7 feet, according to the federal government's California Nevada River Forecast Center. That's 26 feet below flood stage. The American River at H Street is at 17 feet - also 26 below flood stage.
Cache Creek in Yolo County is 35 feet below flood stage.
Chain controls remain the order of the day through much of the Sierra Nevada.
Caltrans reported that chain controls are in effect at elevations as low as 3,600 feet on Interstate 80 and 4,000 feet on Highway 50.
Translation: Motorists on 80 without all-wheel drive need to install chains at Applegate. On 50, chain controls take effect around Kyburz. Also, chain controls are in effect at Dew Drop in Amador County on Highway 88.
"Avoid traveling today if possible," Caltrans tweeted.
Pacific Gas & Electric Crews have restored power to more than 3,000 customers in the Yuba-Sutter area, spokesman Paul Moreno said, but not about 100 customers in Yuba City.
An outage affecting 1,000 customers in Fair Oaks has been mostly resolved, but 808 SMUD clients remain without power, including 211 in Arden and 202 in North Highlands. About 35 to 85 customers in Land Park, Carmichael, Rancho Cordova and Florin remain in the dark.
Visibility on Interstate 80 near Donner Summit is heading near zero. The National Weather Service just tweeted: "Low visibility in the Sierra right now due to heavy snow and gusty winds. Best to hunker down up there today!"
The Sacramento Zoo is closed Thursday as 25-35 MPH winds and gusts up to 55 MPH whip the Central Valley.
The zoo will re-open at 9 a.m. Friday.
Tahoe area ski resorts are reveling in the heavy snowfall. Wind and road conditions, however, could make things difficult for skiers and snowboarders.
Several resorts have shuttered some of their lifts and trails, particularly in the upper parts of the mountains, because of winds gusting as much as 75 mph.
"Most of the upper mountain lifts are closed today," Squaw Valley reported on its website. Sugar Bowl, Sierra at Tahoe and Boreal also announced partial closures.
At Heavenly, high winds prompted the closure of the gondola that brings transports visitors from Highway 50, and "all the upper-mountain lifts are currently on wind hold," said resort spokeswoman Rachelle Atherton. If the winds reach 80 mph, additional lifts could close for the day, she said.
The National Weather Service pleaded with motorists to avoid traveling to the Sierra Nevada until the weather clears Sunday, but Atherton said visitors have been reaching Heavenly.
"People are coming up, still, trying to beat the worst of the storm," she said, adding that the snowfall is expected to pick up considerably this afternoon.
More than 3,400 Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District customers are without power, including about 1,700 in Citrus Heights and 1,050 in Fair Oaks. Power has mostly been restored to North Highlands, where 1,346 customers went black earlier this morning, but 130 east Sacramento accounts have no juice.
SMUD is currently addressing 23 outages throughout the region.
Boreal Mountain Resort saw the most snow of any ski hub - one foot - from Wednesday evening through Thursday morning, according to the National Weather Service. Castle Peak, Kingvale and Kirkwood Mountain Resort all got eight inches of powder, and seven inches fell at Squaw Alpine.
Up to seven feet of snow is expected to fall over mountain passes by the storm's end on Saturday.
This week's storms should put an end to the drought-like conditions California has experienced this winter. Right?
Not by a long shot. Rain and snow totals in Northern California started the day at just 59 percent of average for this time of year, according to the California Department of Water Resources. When all is said and done, the figure will probably be up to about 75 percent, said Michelle Mead of the National Weather Service.
Why such a paltry figure? Mead said the snowfall, while heavy, is also relatively dry and isn't bringing a lot of water to the state.
Precipitation levels are well below normal in practically every area of the state. The U.S. Drought Monitor, in its latest weekly update, said Thursday that 48 percent of California is experiencing drought-like conditions.
All but 66 Rosemont customers have power again, but SMUD is now reporting 1,346 accounts without electricity in North Highlands, 144 in downtown Sacramento and 92 in Arden Arcade.
The National Weather Service is forecasting up to two inches of rain in the Sacramento area by Saturday. Sacramento has seen slightly more than a half inch in the last 24 hours. Weather officials say the valley could see isolated thunderstorms on Thursday.
Officials are warning drivers to be aware of potential localized flooding on roads. Wind gusts in the valley could hit 40 to 60 mph. Gusts in the Sacramento could hit 35-40 miles today, causing concerns about the potential for downed trees and tree limbs.
More than 600 Sacramento-area residents are without power due to eight outages, including 457 people in the Rosemont neighborhood. Another 100 Florin residents have no electricity, as do 36 people in Land Park and 35 in the Wilton/Herald area near Galt.
Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District reported an estimated 1,900 Rosemont residents lost power throughout the night due to a fuse malfunction, but approximately 1,450 are up and running again.
The National Weather Service warns residents to prepare for the “snowiest storm for the foothills since 2011.” Snow levels could drop as low as Auburn and Placerville by Friday.
Six freeway car crashes were reported in the Sacramento area between 6 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., including at least one that required an ambulance, as roadways remained slick from rain that began rolling in Wednesday evening. The Golden Gate California Highway Patrol office reported 18 freeway crashes in the Bay Area during that time frame.
The Sierra Avalanche Center in Truckee has issued a backcountry avalanche warning for the greater Lake Tahoe area. With as much as four feet of snow and high winds expected at higher elevations in the next 24 hours, officials say avalanche warning likely will be in effect through Saturday.
A high wind advisory is in effect for Yolo County, including on the Yolo Causeway and on Interstate 5 near Sacramento International Airport. Officials recommend against travel campers, trailers or permit loads on the highways in the area.
Classes and extracurricular activities are canceled throughout Tahoe Truckee Unified School District Thursday. Other districts in the foothills have yet to announce whether classes will be held.
Sierra-at-Tahoe reported six inches of snow over the last 24 hours, bringing the summit's week-long total to two feet, four inches.
Sacramento meters recorded 0.35-0.45 inches of rain Wednesday through 4 a.m. Thursday, on par with most of the Bay Area but considerably more than Central Valley cities such as Stockton, Mariposa and Fresno, all of which failed to crack 0.1 inches.
Chains are required beginning east of Nevada City on Highway 20, east of Gold Run on Interstate 80, east of Kyburz on Highway 50, east of Barton on Highway 88 and east of Avery on Highway 4, according to CalTrans. A blizzard warning for the Sierra Nevada/Lake Tahoe area starts at 8 a.m. Thursday and extends through 4 a.m. Friday.
Benjy Egel: (916) 321-1052, firstname.lastname@example.org