RENO — The biggest storm so far this winter is headed for the Sierra Nevada, with up to 2 feet of snow possible in the mountains by early Friday and winds potentially gusting in excess of 100 mph over the ridgetops.
On Wednesday, the National Weather Service upgraded a winter storm watch to a winter storm warning in effect from 4 p.m. Thursday to 4 p.m. Friday for the greater Lake Tahoe area stretching north of Reno to Susanville, California.
The service also raised a high wind watch to a high wind warning for Reno, Sparks, Carson City, Gardnerville and Virginia City, where gusts up to 75 mph are possible in wind-prone areas. That’s in effect Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Sierra Avalanche Center in Truckee, California issued a backcountry avalanche watch Wednesday for the Tahoe area because of the forecast of heavy snow combined with strong winds.
South to southwest winds will begin to increase early Thursday morning ahead of a cold strong front, the service. The strongest winds are expected Thursday afternoon and night, but snowfall in the valleys could snarl the Friday morning commute around Reno and Carson City.
“Plan on difficult travel conditions in near white-out conditions at times,” the service said in a special weather statement Wednesday.
Trees are likely to be damaged and power outages will be possible, especially Thursday near Tahoe and along U.S. Highway 395 from Susanville, California south to the Nevada state line, the service said. Some flights may also be delayed
One to 2 feet of snow is expected above elevations of 6,500 feet, with six to 12 inches below 6,500 feet including lake level at Tahoe. Up to 6 inches is possible below 5,500 feet, with up to 3 inches early Friday in Reno, Sparks, Carson City and Minden.
Authorities said commuters heading toward Lake Tahoe or over the Donner Pass area on Interstate 80 southwest of Truckee, California should be prepared with chains and expect travel delays Thursday night and into Friday morning.