Northern California braces for funnel clouds, avalanches, flash floods as storm picks up

Lake Tahoe geared up for road and resort closures as heavy rain and snow returned to the Sierra Nevada region on Sunday while the eastern Valley braced for downpours and possible funnel clouds.

The Sierra Avalanche Center issued an avalanche warning for the Central Sierra Nevada including the Tahoe Basin from noon on Sunday to 7 a.m. Monday in Lake Tahoe, citing “very dangerous avalanche conditions.”

Avalanche warnings are typically categorized by one of five conditions, with the lowest being “low” and highest being “extreme,” according to the National Avalanche Center. Sunday’s warning is categorized as “high,” one notch below the most serious category.

The National Weather Service issued an advisory for the eastern Valley — including much of Sacramento County — warning of hazardous conditions including hail, torrential rain and funnel clouds in the afternoon hours. Winds were predicted to exceed 30 mph, according to the NWS.

The NWS issued a tornado warning just after 2:30 p.m. for northeastern San Joaquin County near Linden, urging residents to seek shelter in interior rooms in case of a funnel cloud. The warning expired at 3:30 p.m.

Another tornado warning for parts of Calaveras County was expanded to include northeastern Stanislaus County, with the NWS saying funnel clouds had been reported.

“Take cover now! move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building,” the NWS said. “Avoid windows. If you are outdoors or in a vehicle, move to the closest substantial shelter and protect yourself from flying debris.”

Just before 4 p.m., the NWS said the storms had weakened and the tornado warnings were allowed to expire.

In addition, flash flood warnings were issued by the NWS for burn scar areas in parts of Butte County hit by November’s deadly Camp Fire. County officials warned residents of the Pulga community to prepare for possible evacuations.

A winter storm warning was issued by the NWS for the Lake Tahoe Basin through 4 a.m. Monday. The Placer County Sheriff recommended that travelers should “avoid mountain travel” in a tweet Sunday.

Snow began to fall heavily at 10 a.m. Sunday, according to NWS meteorologist Craig Shoemaker. He estimated that roughly 2-to-4 inches of snow has fallen in Donner since then.

Shoemaker said snow is expected to start falling at altitudes as low as 6,000 feet above sea level by 3 p.m. Sunday, and drop to 5,000 feet by 7 p.m.

“We’re expecting rapidly lowering snow levels and heavy bursts of snow at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. today,” Shoemaker said. “Travel in the area is really going to be bad, but it’s going to get even worse. Travel will be close to impossible at 5:30 p.m.”

Chain controls are required both directions of Highway 50 from Twin Bridges to Meyers.

Several ski lifts were closed due to heavy wind and snow Sunday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Reno.

Shoemaker said snow should stop in the early hours of Monday.