Winter storm system bringing heavy snow, rain and wind across the United States

A major storm system that has brought heavy snow, coastal rain and high winds to the mountains of California is continuing a slow journey across the country that is expected to last all week, forecasters said Sunday.

The storm is expected to reach the Great Basin and the southwest desert by Monday, the weather service said, with those areas expected to receive up to two inches of snow per hour, which could make travel difficult.

By Tuesday, the service’s forecasters said, the storm could develop into a major winter storm from the central High Plains to the Upper Midwest, which could result in “several days of significant travel and infrastructure impacts in due to snow, blowing snow and frost. rain.” The weather service stressed that “travel may become impossible.”

In the Sierra Nevada, snow fell at a rapid rate of about three inches per hour over the weekend, blanketing roads and creating “near impossible travel” and “near zero visibility,” the service said. .

On Sunday, the Sugar Bowl Resort in the ski areas of the mountainous region of Norden, California, reported nearly four feet of snow, the service said. Other parts of the region saw around two to five feet of snow, which closed some highways near the mountains.

In San Luis Obispo County, near California’s central coast, roads were flooded and high winds gusting more than 60 miles per hour knocked down power lines, said David Gomberg, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Oxnard, California.

In Grover Beach, which is in San Luis Obispo County, all phone and 911 lines were temporarily down Saturday night due to high winds. Service was restored early Sunday, according to the city’s police department.

Flurries are expected to disappear over much of the Sierra Nevada by early Monday morning, said Hannah Chandler-Cooley, meteorologist with the Sacramento Weather Service.

The storm system began moving onshore Friday evening, bringing strong winds to the California coast. But in the mountains, this humidity has become heavy snow.

Forecasters had predicted ‘extreme impacts’ – the most serious warning on the weather service winter storm severity scale – through the Sierra Nevada over the weekend.

The California Department of Transportation on Sunday warned residents to beware of hazardous road conditions and closures in affected areas. The maintenance crews were still work to clear the tracks on Sunday afternoon.

As the low-pressure system moved over land, it tapped into an atmospheric river — an area of ​​moisture that crosses the sky like a river at one level of the atmosphere near where the stars fly. planes. The combination allowed total snowfall to reach one to three feet over much of the higher ground.

“We’re increasingly confident that we’ll be dealing with a fairly large blizzard in the Northern Plains” this week, said Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations for the Weather Prediction Center.

The system will move out of the Rocky Mountains and begin to strengthen, increasing the risk of heavy snowfall and very strong winds through Wednesday across the Northern Plains. The Winter Blast is possible from Colorado, including Denver, and northeast across the Northern Plains. Across the Dakotas, at least one foot is likely, Mr. Carbin said.

“The potential exists there for really impressive amounts,” he added, as he expects this storm system to most likely slow down.

It seems very likely that severe storms, possibly capable of producing tornadoes, will form Tuesday in an area from eastern Texas to Arkansas, Louisiana and much of Mississippi, Chief Bill Bunting said. forecasting operations at the Storm Prediction Center.

“Most fall and winter severe weather events typically have several characteristics in common,” Bunting said, “including a low-pressure system near or north of the area of ​​concern, an airflow wetter from the Gulf of Mexico moving southward northward before the event and a cold front moving eastward toward the region.

Tornadoes are not uncommon at this time of year, but they are less likely than in spring and early summer.

“We average about four days in December a year with at least one EF-1” – rated on a scale from 0 to 5 damage from a tornado — “or a stronger tornado,” said Harold Brooks, senior scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “There are about 100 days with an EF-1 or stronger tornado during the year.”

Severe winter storms like those forecast for this week can be more dangerous than those that form during peak severe weather season in May and June.

“Because the days are shorter,” Dr. Brooks explained, these storms are “more likely to occur after dark.” This “makes them more dangerous” because people in danger cannot spot them as they approach, he said.

“They are also more likely to occur in the South-Central and Southeast United States, which have a higher rural population density than the Plains and have a higher fraction of prefab housing and poverty,” he added. “So the impacts can be bigger.”

Snow fell across southern New England and upstate New York on Sunday. In Albany, NY, there was about five to seven inches of snow, said Bob Oravec, a Weather Service meteorologist.

About eight inches of snow fell in the Berkshires, Mr. Oravec added, and Hartford, Connecticut, recorded between four and six inches.

Boston and Providence, RI each had an inch or two of snow.

“Some areas may not have had a lot of snow this winter yet,” Oravec said. “So whenever you have snow, it always has an impact.”

Christine Chung and April Rubin contributed report.

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