'Incredible totals:' Up to 8 feet of snow expected in Sierra

Christmas is just days away and the present that drought-stricken California will receive is a week of heavy mountain snowfall and widespread rain. 

Successive waves of precipitation moving into Northern California from Tuesday — the first day of winter — through Sunday afternoon because of La Nina in the Pacific Ocean will coat parts of the Sierra Nevada with 1 to 5 feet of snow and possibly up to 8 feet at some higher elevations, the National Weather Service said.

The mountain range, where ski resorts had struggled to open this fall, is already sporting glistening peaks after recent storms. The snowfall is important because the Sierra’s winter snowpack normally is a significant source of California’s water.

"Watch the Sierra. It's just lit up," said KTVU meteorologist Steve Paulson. "There are going to be some incredible totals." 

Down at lower elevations in the Bay Area, rain is also expected to fall from Tuesday night to Sunday, possibly bringing up to 2.5 inches in the South Bay, up to 5 inches in the North Bay and up to 6 inches in Santa Cruz, according to the NWS. 

As for Tuesday, there will be clouds and colder temperatures in the 50s until the rain moves in later in the night. 

After a series of mid-December tempests, California’s overall snow-water equivalent — a measurement of how much water is in the snowpack — jumped from 19% of normal to date on Dec. 10 to 76% of normal on Dec. 17, according to the latest U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook.

While the current wet trend is positive, it is too early to know if it will last through January and February. The snowpack normally doesn’t reach its maximum until April and last spring there was minimal runoff because much of the water was absorbed by the drought-parched landscape.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.