Mar 4, 2024 - Energy & Environment

California blizzard dumped more than 100 inches, with more snow coming

Picture of a man shoveling snow near railroad tracks during a blizzard in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains.

A Union Pacific worker shovels snow near the railroad tracks on March 2 in Truckee, Calif. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The fierce blizzard that battered California's Sierra Nevada mountains for four days dropped more than 100 inches of snow in some locations.

Why it matters: The extreme snow totals cut off some mountain towns and shut down I-80 for days, but it will greatly improve summer water resources.

By the numbers: The storm dumped an incredible 126 inches, or 10.5 feet, of snow in four days in Sugar Bowl, Calif., a ski resort located northwest of Lake Tahoe, according to the National Weather Service forecast office in Sacramento.

  • Soda Springs picked up 116 inches. Kingvale reported 106 inches, and the Palisades Resort in Tahoe got 93 inches.
  • The U.C. Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab picked up 75.2 inches from this storm, and endured hours without power due to the combination of heavy snow and high winds bringing trees and power lines down.
  • The strongest wind gust on record from the storm was at Palisades, at a whopping 190mph. Numerous gusts above 100 mph were recorded elsewhere in the Sierra as well.

The big picture: According to the Sierra Snow Lab, the storm brought a below average snow pack into above average territory, a tremendous gain for water managers facing the coming long dry season and a possible La Niña event after that.

  • "The storm helped out the whole state A LOT!," the lab stated on X. "Statewide snow water equivalent is now at 104% of normal to-date after starting January at only 28%. We're also at 94% of our April 1st normal and should get be able to get to 100%."
  • The blizzard was unusually intense and prolonged, even for an area used to heavy snow like the Sierra.
  • The proximate cause was an area of low pressure off the northern California coast, and a deep plume of moisture flowing toward the mountains along with powerful jet stream winds.
  • The air hit the mountains at a 90-degree angle, causing it to rise rapidly, cool and wring out the moisture it was carrying, forming heavy snow.

Context: Warmer than average sea surface temperatures off the California coast, part of record warm ocean temperatures worldwide, have been increasing precipitation totals in similar storms this year, from San Diego to Lake Tahoe.

What's next: More snow is expected in the Sierra through Wednesday, but this will be far less intense than the blizzard, with 1 to 2 feet falling from a weaker storm system.

Go deeper: In photos: Sierra Nevada hit with ferocious blizzard

Go deeper