Atmospheric river descends on Sacramento region, with blizzard warning in Sierra

A strong winter storm caused by an “atmospheric river” is bearing down on the Sacramento region and is expected to stay through the weekend, weather officials say.

Heavy rain already began falling Wednesday afternoon in capital region, and wind gusts as high as 55 mph are expected by sunset, according to the National Weather Service. Blizzard warnings were issued for the Sierra Nevada through Thursday afternoon, with winter storm warnings for areas above 5,500 feet through Friday morning.

An atmospheric river, according to NWS meteorologist Emily Heller, is a band of moisture that forms over the ocean and dumps rain when it hits land.

Heller said Sacramento can expect heavier rain and wind from this storm than normal.

“It’s a bit of a stronger storm than we’re used to seeing during this time of year,” Heller said. “This looks to be maybe even a little bit stronger than the storm from last week.”

Rain was likely to continue through Thursday night, Heller said. Skies will clear up Friday, before the rain returns Saturday and Sunday.

“Be safe, please,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said. “Stay inside. Stay off the roads as much as possible and look out for each other. It’s better to be inside with family and friends.”

The weekend storm will be “much smaller” than last week’s downpour that caused more than 100,000 families and businesses to lose power, she said.


The California Department of Transportation is preparing for the storm by clearing roads in the Sierra Nevada where they can, though officials recommend avoiding traveling in these conditions.

As of 4:45 p.m., chains were required on eastbound Interstate 80 from Kingvale to Truckee, according to Caltrans.

Traffic on westbound Interstate 80 was held at the Nevada state line due to spin outs. Chains were required from Truckee to three miles west of Kingvale, according to Caltrans.

Chains were required both directions of Highway 50 from Twin Bridges to Meyers. Four-wheel drive vehicles with snow tires are exempt from chain restrictions, according to Caltrans.


The Sierra Avalanche Center upgraded its avalanche warning from moderate to high levels Wednesday, indicating extremely dangerous conditions in the central Sierra.

“Expect widespread, large, and destructive avalanche activity in the mountains,” the National Weather Service said. “Natural avalanches are likely and human-triggered avalanches are very likely.”

Caltrans isn’t the only group preparing for the storm; resorts and other businesses in the area are expecting closures and are encouraging visitors to stay safe.

Liesl Hepburn, spokeswoman for Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, encouraged people to check out the resort’s app as well as the national weather service and Caltrans road conditions and closures before visiting the resort.

“With heavy snow and high winds, our lift operations will be impacted,” she said in a release. “This is only the fifth blizzard warning issued by NOAA for the Sierra Nevada in the last 10 years.”

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