Back-To-Back Late-Spring Snowstorms Pelting The Sierra Nevadas

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After an unusually strong spring storm dumped 18 inches of snow in parts of the Sierra Nevada from Wednesday night (May 15, 2019) until this morning (May 17, 2019), another potent storm is quickly approaching. Snowstorms aren’t rare in this part of the U.S. this time of the year, but the intensity was unusually strong considering summer is only a little more than a month away. Idamis Del Valle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Sacramento, California told Freight Waves that generally, in mid-May, storms produce four to eight inches of snow.

Sierra Nevada snowfall forecast issued May 17, 2019. Source: NOAA


The recent storm dumped 18 inches at the Squaw Valley Resort and 16 inches at the Alpine Valley Resort, with estimated amounts of 10 inches at Donner Pass and six inches at Echo Summit.

As a precaution, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) closed sections of state highway 89 on Wednesday, May 17 after the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a Winter Storm Warning. This may happen again as the next storm gets close to the region. Also, there was at least one report of a possible weather-related accident involving a tractor-trailer that occurred early on the morning of May 16, and delays were reported today on I-80 between Truckee and Emigrant Gap.

Although the current storm is fading, some roads in the high elevations will stay snow-covered or slushy before the next round of snow settles in. This includes sections of I-80, where Caltrans issued a public notice earlier today that chains were required on most vehicles. The exception was four-wheel-drive vehicles with snow tires on all four wheels. The chain control was from Nyack (Placer County) to the Donner Lake interchange (Nevada County), but the controls can change at any time. So, drivers in California have to be on the lookout for signs not only the rest of today, but throughout the weekend.

Storm number one will only be gone for about 36 hours before storm number two makes its presence known. The NWS has posted a Winter Storm Watch for a large portion of the Sierra Nevada range, in effect from 2:00 p.m. PDT Saturday, May 18 until 5:00 a.m. PDT Monday, May 20. A Winter Weather Advisory has been issued for the greater Lake Tahoe area.


In the northern half of the range – western Plumas County and around Lassen Volcanic National Park – total snow accumulations could reach eight to 15 inches, with localized amounts up to 24 inches possible. The southern half could get hammered with up to 18 inches of snow in elevations above 8,000 feet; elevations between 6,000 and 8,000 feet are forecast to get six to 12 inches. This includes places such as Camp Nelson, Fish Camp, Florence Lake, Johnsondale, Kernville, Lake Isabella, Lodgepole, Shaver Lake and Tuolumne Meadows.

Drivers will have to deal with rain and sleet in some of the lower slopes. Then, on the higher peaks, they may run into delays on I-80, US-395 and several state routes due to slick conditions, gusty winds, blowing snow and reduced visibility.

The greater Lake Tahoe area, including Incline Village, South Lake Tahoe, Stateline and Truckee, may see snow totals of up to three inches, with four to 10 inches above 7,000 feet expected, especially near the crest. Also, powerful winds gusts could reach 50 to 85 mph over exposed ridges.

Other Significant Weekend Weather

SONAR Critical Events: Highest severe thunderstorm risk area indicated for Saturday, May 18, 2019.

Severe thunderstorms may do some damage on Saturday from Texas to Iowa, producing large hail, strong winds and flash flooding. As of this afternoon, the best odds for tornadoes will probably be across central and eastern Texas (including Austin and Dallas), the Shreveport, Louisiana area, eastern Kansas and northwestern Arkansas (including Fayetteville and Ft. Smith). Right now, the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) has these areas under an Enhanced risk for severe weather. On a scale of one to five, with five being the highest risk, Enhanced is a three.
Check updated official NWS weather alerts on this interactive map, and have a safe weekend!

Image sourced from Pixabay