Calif. Sierras blanketed with snow

January 5, 2008 7:42:26 PM PST
A dangerous blanket of heavy snow coated the Sierra Nevada and thousands of Californians were without power Saturday after a powerful punch from the first wave of a Pacific storm system.

Avalanche warnings were posted for the backcountry of the central Sierra and flash flood warnings were in effect for many areas of the southern part of the state, where large swaths of land denuded by the fall's wildfires.

But much of California was experiencing a lull in the bad weather.

"There's a little bit of a let up right now in the rain, but there's still a huge band of rain that's going to come in today," Ted MacKechnie, a National Weather Service forecaster, said Saturday morning.

The National Weather Service office in Reno, Nev., said weather spotters had reported 2 feet to 3 feet of snow in the Lake Tahoe basin by Friday night, while remote sensors and ski areas in the high Sierra had recorded up to 5 feet of snow since Friday morning. Forecasters expected as much as 10 feet of snow on the mountain range by Sunday.

"Attempting to travel in the Sierra will put your life at risk," the NWS warned.

However, Interstate 80 across the Sierra, the main east-west link between Northern California and Nevada, was open Saturday after being closed overnight. The Red Cross had set up a 200-bed shelter in Truckee for stranded motorists, as well as a shelter in Butte County.

In Southern California, Orange County authorities on Friday ordered about 3,000 residents to leave Williams, Harding, Modjeska and Silverado canyons for fear of flash flooding and mudslides from wildfire-scarred slopes, but it wasn't known how many left.

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