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Nevada, northern California brace for blizzard, 'life-threatening' conditions

The Sierra Nevada is bracing for "life-threatening blizzard conditions" on Friday ahead of a forecast of heavy snows that could bury parts of northern California and Nevada while also triggering deadly road conditions.

Forecasters say the winter storm will cause "whiteout blizzard conditions" and travel will be "extremely dangerous to impossible."

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for parts of Nevada and northern California until Sunday morning and a winter storm warning until at least Saturday afternoon. A high wind warning was also issued in Nevada through Saturday morning.

The Sierra Nevada is bracing for a winter storm that could bring 'life-threatening' travel conditions.
The Sierra Nevada is bracing for a winter storm that could bring 'life-threatening' travel conditions.

"If you haven't chosen to stay in for the weekend, prepare for life-threatening travel conditions as our next weather-maker takes over," the NWS wrote.

Snow levels could reach up to 10 feet in high elevation areas above 7,000 feet. Other areas above 6,000 feet could accumulate up to 8 feet of snow. Lower areas, including Lake Tahoe, could see up to 6 feet of snow.

Winds could gust at more than 115 mph in high areas over the Sierra ridges, and up to 70 mph at lower elevations.

Forecasters say the severe conditions won't abate for at least the duration of the weekend. Winds could subside in the valleys on Monday, but snow showers could continue, with a chance of up to 45% for more snow in the Sierra Nevada midway through the week.

Last year, the Donner Pass saw nearly 12 feet of snow pile up over the course of seven days in late February.

The Sierra Nevada has a history of racking up hefty snow levels during severe winter storms.

It set a record in 1952, when the Donner Pass recorded 154 inches of snow over the course of eight days in January, as winds blew 80 mph and created 40-foot drifts, according to the Truckee Historical Society.

'Treacherous' conditions could make travel on mountain roads 'life-threatening'

The NWS warned travelers not to venture out as the heavy snow and damaging winds produce "treacherous" conditions on mountainous roads.

Donner Pass, the 7,000-foot-high mountain pass 40 miles west of Reno, as well as parts of Interstate 5 in northern California, could close down completely, according to Accuweather.

Heavy winds blowing across the roads could also bring drivers' visibility to "near zero," the NWS said.

Forecasters warned that travelers could become stranded on the roads while the snow could overwhelm road crews.

The storm could also knock out power to residents of mountainous or remote locations. Accuweather experts advised residents to keep chimneys open and release exhaust from furnaces to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Schools close ahead of severe weather on Friday

The incoming storm prompted schools in affected areas to cancel classes on Friday.

Washoe County in Nevada, which encompasses Reno, canceled all classes, activities, and events, citing the dangerous road conditions. Officials also shuttered the doors of schools in the Storey County School District, located just east of Reno.

Children in Tahoe City and Truckee, located on the California side of the border with Nevada, were released early on Thursday and stayed home on Friday, according to school officials. Schools just south in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District also closed on Friday.

The University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe, also suspended all operations and in-person classes on Thursday and Friday in response to the weather.

More: Yosemite National Park shuts down amid massive winter storm: 'Leave as soon as possible'

'High to extreme' avalanche danger throughout weekend

The Sierra Avalanche Center issued an avalanche watch for the Central Sierra Nevada mountains on Thursday. The Center said a "high to extreme" avalanche danger could occur between Friday morning and Sunday afternoon.

The Center also announced a backcountry avalanche warning in effect until 5 p.m. on Sunday for the mountainous area between Yuba Pass and Ebbetts Pass, including the Greater Lake Tahoe area.

High intensity snowfall beginning on Thursday afternoon could form dangerous slabs of snow, the Center said. "Gale force winds will form slabs of wind-blown snow along ridges, gully features, and in exposed areas."

One avalanche fatality has occurred in the Sierra Nevada mountains so far this year. In January, the Placer County Sheriff's Office reported the death, along with one additional injury, after an avalanche broke out at the Palisades Tahoe ski resort.

So far this year, eight people in the U.S. have died due to avalanches, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. The 2022-2023 winter season saw a total of 30 avalanche deaths across the country caused.

Lake Tahoe is the site of one of the deadliest avalanches in history – the March 1982 Alpine Meadows avalanche. Seven people were killed in the disaster after more than 7 feet of snow piled up at the ski resort over four days in late March.

Coupled with winds traveling 100 mph, the snowfall triggered a historically destructive avalanche. The resort had barred skiing amidst the dangerous conditions, but seven guests and employees lost their lives, including one 11-year-old, the youngest victim. The avalanche also destroyed a two-story ski lift workers' building and other heavy equipment.

Cybele Mayes-Osterman is a breaking news reporter for USA Today. Reach her on email at cmayesosterman@usatoday.com. Follow her on X @CybeleMO.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nevada, northern California brace for 'whiteout' blizzard