Officials said whiteout conditions are developing around Lake Tahoe, so unless it's an emergency drivers are warned not to venture outside around Lake Tahoe for a 20 hour time period starting Thursday.
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The National Weather Service is predicting winds gusting in excess of 100 mph and as much as 5 feet of snow in the upper elevations by the weekend.
The weather service in Reno issued a winter storm warning earlier for the Tahoe region effective from 10 p.m. Wednesday through 10 a.m. Saturday.
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The service says the biggest storm of the season so far could create a "life-threatening situation."
It says strong winds and heavy snowfall rates will cause whiteout conditions with blowing snow. Travel will be very difficult to impossible, especially Thursday into Friday morning.
The avalanche danger also is expected to rise to the high category from 7 a.m. Thursday to 10 a.m. Saturday.
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The Associated Press contributed to this story.