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Winter storm sending heavy snow where California rarely sees it

Snow covered peaks are viewed after a series of atmospheric river storms brought heavy snowfall to the region on January 22, 2023 near Mammoth Lakes, California.
Mario Tama
/
Getty Images
Snow covered peaks are viewed after a series of atmospheric river storms brought heavy snowfall to the region on January 22, 2023 near Mammoth Lakes, California.

The winter storm that's pummeling nearly half the United States means snow in parts of California that often don't see it.

"It's not too often that we talk about one to three feet of snow above 4,000 feet, let alone locally five feet," National Weather Service meteorologist Alex Tardy said in avideo update released Tuesday for the San Diego region.

Part of what makes this series of storms unique, he says, is the amount of snow expected at lower elevations, including between 1,000 and 2,000 feet.

"This isn't a matter of if it'll rain or snow, but how much," Tardy said, noting that the region is expected to see significant snowfall until Friday night, as well as a possible atmospheric river.

East of Los Angeles, Mount Baldy could get up to 4.5 feet of snow by Saturday. This has Mount Baldy Ski Lifts General Manager Robby Ellingson concerned.

"It's kind of hard to gauge," said the 47-year-old life-long resident. "I've never seen these sorts of predictions of snowfall."

LA county is responsible for maintaining the bottom of the road leading up to Mount Baldy, but isn't used to removing snow, he said. Ellingson also expressed concerns about potential rains that could follow and set the set snow "loose" and cause flooding.

But even with his concerns, part of Ellingson is optimistic – and he looks forward to the benefits of a strong snowpack.

"We've had a great season already," he said. "And it's looking like we're going to have quite the Spring."

For many Californians – particularly those in the Sierra Nevada mountains – the storms come as good news.

South Lake Tahoe's snow operations team is ready to plow roadways, bike trails and sidewalks, said Assistant City Manager Lindsey Baker. And their first priority is ensuring emergency vehicles can get where they need to go.

"We learned a lot from previous storms," Baker said. "We try with every storm that we go through, to grow and improve in the next round."

The emerging storm, she said, is "not anything unusual" – and the city anticipates it won't be the same kind of "non-stop, all hands-on deck situation" they experienced earlier this year.

Mammoth Mountain, home to a thriving winter tourism scene, is already six inches over its annual average of 400 inches of snow, said spokesperson Lauren Burke.

"It's been an incredible season here at Mammoth. We've already surpassed our annual seasonal snowfalls," she said, noting the summits have received about 550 inches. "And then we had some much-needed sunshine, and we're right back in it for the next week or two."

The first two weeks of January alone brought the region 17 feet of snow in just 16 days, which according to Burke, caused road and ski lift closures, along with heaps of snow to be shoveled.

But this February's storm should be more manageable for the region – even if its summit gets between 15 and 21 inches of snow Friday, as the National Weather Service predicts. Burke added this storm should bring the "perfect amount of snow to get out there and ski and ride."

"We expect to see a lot of happy faces out on the mountain," she said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Mallika Seshadri