Storm pounds California; 125 mph wind gust at Alpine Meadows

SAN FRANCISCO — A powerful storm packing heavy rain, snow and wind pounded parts of California and western Nevada early Wednesday, toppling trees, and causing power outages and mud flows in vast areas scarred by wildfires.

The onslaught was being fueled by a potent atmospheric river weather system from the Pacific Ocean that punched into the state through the San Francisco Bay Area overnight.

Tens of thousands of customers were without power in the San Francisco and Sacramento areas.

Mudslides near Salinas south of the Bay Area caused "mild to moderate" damage to about two dozen rural ranch homes beneath hillsides scorched by the River Fire last August, said Dorothy Priolo with the Monterey County Regional Fire Protection District.

One woman was treated for broken bones after mud went "completely through the house" in the early morning hours, Priolo said.

Lingering showers soaked the area.

"We are expecting there could be more earth movement here in the next couple of days," Priolo said.

The peak at Alpine Meadows ski resort near Lake Tahoe had a 125 mph wind gust, the National Weather Service said.

Evacuation orders were issued in advance in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties around an area scorched by wildfires ignited by lightning last August. The state also positioned teams with specialized rescue skills in five counties.

Santa Cruz County appeared to dodge trouble. No debris flows were reported even though rainfall was heavy, the sheriff's office said.

"Crews are in the fields assessing for safety. Trees did come down overnight, impacting roads," the office tweeted.

Rare snow was reported in Sonoma and Napa counties north of San Francisco at elevations as low as 1,300 feet. Low-level snow also fell in the northern Sacramento Valley, closing Interstate 5 in Shasta and Siskiyou counties.

About 500 miles to the south, deteriorating conditions closed I-5 in Tejon Pass between Los Angeles and the southern San Joaquin Valley.

The National Weather Service issued a rare blizzard warning for Lake Tahoe and much of the Sierra in California and Nevada, forecasting up to 6 feet of snow on upper elevations and winds in excess of 100 mph over ridgetops.

More than a foot of snow was reported early Wednesday in the foothills north of Reno. The Mount Rose ski resort on the southwest edge of town announced it would be closed "due to blizzard conditions and high winds."

"The first phase of this impressive and hazardous storm is currently driving atmospheric river moisture and heavy snow across the northern Sierra and western Nevada," the National Weather Service in Reno said.

A 75-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 395 south of the California-Nevada line was shut down and chains or snow tires were required on all mountain passes in the central and northern Sierra, including a stretch of Interstate 80 north of Lake Tahoe.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered a two-hour delay for state workers to report to work.

The Washoe County School District notified parents Tuesday night that all Nevada public schools in Reno-Sparks and the north Lake Tahoe area would be closed Wednesday.

A warning was also issued for widespread high avalanche danger on the eastern slopes of the Sierra because of heavy snow combining with wind through Friday morning.

The atmospheric river is part of a major change in weather for California, which had significant drought conditions for months. The dryness contributed to wildfires that scorched more than 4.2 million acres in 2020, the most in recorded modern history.

Antczak reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Christopher Weber in LA and Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada contributed to this report.


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