SAN FRANCISCO - A major winter storm ramped up Sunday with snow in Northern California that forced drivers to wrap their tires in chains and light rain in the lower elevations.
The storm promises to drop up to 8 feet (2.4 meters) of snow on the highest peaks and drench other parts of California. It's expected to intensify overnight into Monday and bring strong winds that could lead to power outages, forecasters said.
"This is a pretty widespread event," said National Weather Service meteorologist Anna Wanless in Sacramento. "Most of California, if not all, will see some sort of rain and snow."
The precipitation will bring at least temporary relief to the broader region that's been gripped by drought for more than 20 years because of climate change. The latest U.S. drought monitor shows parts of Montana, Oregon, California, Nevada and Utah in exceptional drought, which is the worst category.
Most reservoirs that deliver water to states, cities, tribes, farmers and utilities rely on melted snow.
Forecasters said the weather is typical for this time of the year but notable.
"This is the first big snow with those travel impacts, and it's just transitioning into that," Wanless said.
Officials urged people to stay indoors. Rain could cause minor flooding and rockslides, especially in areas that have been scarred by wildfires, according to the forecast.
Another storm system predicted to hit California midweek could deliver almost continuous snow, said Scott McGuire, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Reno office, which monitors an area straddling the Nevada state line. Downed trees and white-out conditions could endanger motorists.
"If you are traveling through the Sierra, either get ahead of the storm before snowfall begins or wait until it’s over to get up there. It will be increasingly treacherous," McGuire said.
Meanwhile, the Sierra Avalanche Center warned heavy snow and strong winds on top of a weak snowpack could cause large and destructive avalanches. A 60-year-old man died Saturday at a ski resort in the Pacific Northwest in an avalanche that temporarily buried five others.
Pacific Gas & Electric said the storm may cause power outages in the Bay Area. Workers were clearing away vegetation from power lines to reduce the chance of outages, the utility said in a news release.
Lichen Crommett, manager of the San Lorenzo Garden Center in Santa Cruz, California, said there was a light sprinkling of rain Sunday morning that didn't keep customers away.
"It's not like raincoat worthy just yet, but any second it could change," she said.