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California braces for flooding, avalanches as Sierra gets slammed with rain, snow

California braces for flooding, avalanches as Sierra gets slammed with rain, snow
Snow is cleared from the Donner Pass rest area near Truckee, Calif., on Saturday. (Bob Strong/Reuters)

A powerful storm blasted the Sierra Nevada with waves of torrential rain and heavy snowfall on Sunday, leaving a vast swath of California bracing for potentially disastrous floods, avalanches and mudslides.

The latest weather comes just days after the mountains around Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park received several feet of snow over the span of a week. At Mammoth Mountain, a ski resort bordering Yosemite, the 11,000-foot peak got 84 inches of snow in just two days.

This week’s forecast calls for several more feet of snow, as well as heavy rain, part of a meteorological phenomenon known as the “Pineapple Express,” which brings an atmospheric river of warm moisture north from the tropics.

The conditions that accompany the latest band of moisture hovering over Northern California bear some semblance to those of a 1997 storm that flooded the Yosemite Valley and led to a years-long, $250 million recovery effort.

Park rangers closed roads into the Yosemite preserve over the weekend, and local officials in mountain towns handed out sandbags for residents to reinforce their homes against the possible deluge.

The storm will continue to pound the Sierra Nevada range this week. Weather experts predict that colder temperatures could possibly turn the moisture from rain into heavy snow, bringing the potential for up to seven additional feet of snow in the mountains.

At the highest elevations, the cold air could translate to as much as 20 feet of snow on the peaks, according to forecasts from the National Weather Service. Such high snow accumulation could mitigate California’s enduring drought by building up the Sierra snowpack.

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