The Mercury News Weekend
`UNUSUAL' CHILL SOCKS BAY AREA
`Rock-bottom temperatures,' low-elevation snow are part of wintry blast expected to linger
California residents from the Northern Coast down to the Bay Area saw major snowfalls Thursday with more wind, rain and snow expected to fall through the night and into today as a powerful winter storm makes its way south, bringing snow and hail to areas at 1,500 to 2,000 feet above sea level and even lower elevations in some areas.
The band of cold, wet weather is part of a system that came out of the Pacific Northwest, with an earlier wave Wednesday night and Thursday morning that dropped snow as low as a few hundred feet above sea level in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The National Weather Service expanded a Winter Storm Warning to start at 4 p.m. Thursday and end at 11 a.m. today to cover the entire Bay Area above 1,500 feet.
Widespread precipitation is expected around the Bay Area starting Thursday night, bringing steady rain to much of the region until tapering off with showers this morning, with rainfall totaling a half-inch to an inchand-a-half, depending on location, National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Canepa said Thursday evening.
The Weather Service on Thursday also issued a freeze warning for East Bay hills and interior valleys, the Santa Cruz Mountains, the eastern Santa Clara hills and East Bay Hills, to start at midnight Thursday and expire at 9 a.m. today. The agency also put out a wind advisory for those areas until 4 p.m. today, with gusts up to 45 mph expected.
“It's unusual,” Canepa said. “It's rock-bottom temperatures.”
Snow accumulations are expected from 2 to 12 inches in the hills around the bay, with up to a foot in the hills east of San Jose, up to 6 inches in the East Bay Hills and up to 7 inches in the Santa Cruz Mountains,
The overnight storm was expected to batter most of the state with snow, hail, thunder, lightning and gusty winds from the Oregon to Southern California borders. Officials warned people against traveling if possible, as roads could be slick above 1,000 feet, he added.
Earlier, a cold, moisture-laden band of weather Wednesday night and Thursday morning dusted the Oakland hills with snow, sent wet flakes falling as low as 500 feet above sea level in Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and dropped graupel — a mash-up of snowflakes and frozen water droplets — onto beaches in Santa Cruz.
In Palo Alto, city officials closed Page Mill Road between Foothills Nature Preserve and Skyline Boulevard before noon Thursday because snow and ice built up on the roadway.
The Lick Observatory atop 4,200-foot Mount Hamilton reported on social media that 2 feet of snow fell overnight Wednesday and that they were expecting at least 33 inches total. State Highway 130, the Mount Hamilton road, also was closed and was expected to remain shut down till at least Sunday, the observatory reported.
Paul Lynam, an astronomer at the 3,600-acre observatory operated by the University of California, said staff there had been bracing for snow all week and were keeping their generators working.
As the first wave moved south into Thursday afternoon, much of the snow that stuck below 1,500 feet began to melt. Louise Moran, who runs the Crest Ranch Christmas Tree Farm in Santa Cruz, said some of her trees looked snow-covered and Christmas-ready before noon, but not so much by the afternoon.
Whiteout conditions and vehicle spinouts on I-80 led highway officials to shut it down early Thursday afternoon in both directions between Colfax, 50 miles northeast of Sacramento, and the Nevada state line east of Truckee.
At Bay Area airports, 52 flights had been cancelled by noon Thursday, including 20 at San Francisco International Airport and 16 each at Mineta San Jose Airport and Oakland International Airport.
The storm Thursday night is also expected to wreak havoc on Pacific Gas and Electric customers, many of whom still were without power Thursday after heavy winds caused outages earlier this week. The utility warned that the upcoming storm could cause extended outages for some customers, because storm-related damages may affect the ability to assess what repairs are needed. As of 10:30 a.m. Thursday, 22,800 PG&E customers still were in the dark.
And the unusual winter storm is not expected to be the last. Another system is set to move in from the northwest over the weekend, delivering up to a third of an inch of rain Sunday to the Bay Area, with high temperatures in the low 50s, Canepa said. An additional weather system is forecasted to arrive Monday, with slightly more rain than on Sunday, he said.
“It's a huge benefit for sure for California for snowpack development, reservoir filling and keeping things good on the precipitation front,” Canepa said.
The storm arriving Thursday evening was expected to hit Southern California even harder, with blizzard conditions and 75 mph wind gusts expected in the Southern Sierra Nevada and the Transverse ranges. Interstate 5 remained open over the Grapevine early Thursday. The San Diego office of the National Weather Service on Thursday issued its first-ever blizzard warning for the San Bernardino County mountains, running from 4 a.m. today to 4 p.m. Saturday. Parts of central California, including Bakersfield and the southern San Joaquin Valley, could see flooding this morning through Saturday morning, according to the National Weather Service.
Meanwhile, the Northern Plains region of the U.S. and parts of the Midwest were seeing frigid weather and life-threatening wind chills Thursday afternoon as a major winter storm swept over the area and across the Northeast, according to the National Weather Service.