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Holiday travelers can expect snow, high winds over Sierra passes

Winter driving tips to navigate Sierra roadways

Caltrans shares important tips for motorists heading to higher elevations this winter. The video also introduced drivers to Caltrans' new method of identifying chain installers who have been permitted and trained by Caltrans. Public Information Of
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Caltrans shares important tips for motorists heading to higher elevations this winter. The video also introduced drivers to Caltrans' new method of identifying chain installers who have been permitted and trained by Caltrans. Public Information Of

Holiday travelers heading over the Sierra on Friday and Saturday should be prepared to chain up and expect delays.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning effective from 6 a.m. Friday to 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.

Up to 2 feet of snow is forecast for the summit passes. Johnnie Powell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said this this storm will be colder than last week’s storms and will result in snow levels as low as 4,000 feet.

“That’s the way we like it. Blue Canyon (at 5,000 feet) is the money line” when it comes to building a snow pack that could help ease the drought, he said.

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.

Snow accumulations of 1 to 2 feet are expected at about 7,000 feet, with higher amounts in some areas along the Sierra crest and 8 to 16 inches in the Lake Tahoe area. Poor visibility and whiteout conditions are likely over the passes.

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.

Powell said rain likely will begin in the Sacramento area between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. Friday. The storm could deliver between a half and three-quarters of an inch of rain before tapering off early Saturday. The area has had time to dry out since last week’s storm, which should reduce the potential for flooding, he said.

After a stormy prelude, Christmas Day is expected to be mostly sunny, the National Weather Service said. A high of 48 degrees is forecast for the Sacramento area, with highs in the low 30s forecast for Truckee and South Lake Tahoe.

Caltrans advises motorized heading out on holiday trips to make sure their vehicles are winterized:

  • Check tire pressure and tread depth to minimize sliding and/or hydroplaning.
  • Replace wiper blades and fill the windshield wiper fluid reservoir; be sure to use a winter formula to help de-ice windshields
  • If traveling to higher elevations, carry tire chains correctly sized for the vehicle’s tires, in good working order and practice installing the chains before they need to be used.
  • Have a full tank of fuel before traveling.

Motorists also are advised to carry a travel kit with blankets, extra clothing, food and water, towels, a shovel, a flashlight, an ice scraper, a small bag of sand or kitty litter and road flares. They should start the trip with a fully charged cell phone and carry a car charger.

TRAFFIC INFO: Live conditions for Sacramento region

Caltrans and California Trucking Assn. team up to employ two "pusher" trucks for stalled big rigs. A pusher truck is used to move semi-trucks out of traffic or give them the momentum needed to move through the snow after a loss of traction.

The forecast for Christmas in Sacramento looks appropriately wintry with the morning dawning at around freezing. The detailed, seven-day forecast from the NWS for the Sacramento region:

Thursday night: Increasing clouds, with a low around 43. Southeast wind 3 to 5 mph.

Friday: Rain. High near 52. South southeast wind 10 to 20 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90 percent. New precipitation amounts between a half and three quarters of an inch possible.

Friday night: Rain likely. Cloudy, with a low around 38. South southwest wind 9 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70 percent. New precipitation amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch possible.

Saturday: A 30 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 51. South wind 5 to 7 mph becoming northwest in the morning.

Saturday night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 33.

Christmas Day: Mostly sunny, with a high near 48.

Sunday night: Mostly cloudy, with a low around 34.

Monday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 48.

Monday night: Patchy fog after 4 a.m. Otherwise, partly cloudy, with a low around 35.

Tuesday: Patchy fog. Otherwise, mostly sunny, with a high near 53.

Tuesday night: Patchy dense fog. Otherwise, partly cloudy, with a low around 37.

Wednesday: Patchy dense fog. Otherwise, mostly sunny, with a high near 53.

During recent winter storms, many Sacramentans had the same thought: How can I save some of that rain for later? Holding onto that rain can recharge soil moisture, cut down on outside water use and create lasting savings on irrigation. Which metho

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy

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