Whiteout conditions caused by blowing snow on U.S. 395 near Convict Lake, Calif., Monday afternoon. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The latest round of a powerful series of winter storms barreled into Northern California on Tuesday, bringing white-out conditions and blizzard warnings for the Sierra Nevada and closing Interstate 80 and U.S. 395.

Forecasters warned of wind guts topping 150 mph, drifting snow, and zero visibility at high elevations.

There were also fears of more flooding, with new warnings issued for the Napa and Russian rivers.

The impending storm is expected to bring up to 7 feet of snow to higher elevations. By the end of the week the total for the year could already be up to 20 feet. That means a generous addition to the Sierra Nevada snowpack, whose spring and summer runoff are a precious water supply for California cities and farms.

On Monday, the snowpack was at 126% of its average for this time of year, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

“We haven’t seen an event of this magnitude in at least a decade,” state climatologist Mike Anderson said.

The storms over the weekend were relatively warm, meaning snow levels stayed high. Some of the snow that did fall melted fairly quickly, creating raging rivers — and flooding — across the region.

But the next rounds of storms will be colder, meaning more of the snow will stick. That’s good news for the state’s water collection systems, which rely on snow remaining in the Sierra Nevada into the spring.

Residents, businesses and government agencies are now preparing for a whole different type of storm, even while they scramble to access and address the damage from the last onslaught.

Union Pacific Railroad tracks at Norden near Lake Tahoe were washed out by rain Sunday night, cutting off Amtrak passenger and freight trains into and out of California. A Union Pacific spokesman said the railroad expected to have the line reopened by Monday evening.


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