HomeOutdoorsWeatherCalifornia Hit by ‘Atmospheric River Event’ That Brought Several Feet of Snow

California Hit by ‘Atmospheric River Event’ That Brought Several Feet of Snow

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by gremlin via Getty Images)

An atmospheric river event is barreling through the West coast this weekend, blanketing California in a thick layer of snow and forcing more than 10 million people across the country to brace for the monstrous storm. As the storm raged through California, highways shut down, trees fell, and flood and avalanche warnings lit the state all the way from the coast to Lake Tahoe. And according to forecasters, that was just the beginning.

Experts expect the powerful storm to move east through the next several days, bringing heavy mountain snow to the Rockies before pummeling the eastern half of the country. Atmospheric rivers are long, narrow strips in the atmosphere resembling rivers in the sky. They transport water vapor through the air, and when they make landfall, they release that vapor in the form of rain or snow.

As much as four feet of snow is expected to fall in areas of higher elevation around Lake Tahoe. In more remote areas of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, the snow could reach six feet. The Golden State will also experience heavy rains and winds reaching 55 mph.

Certain areas of the state could receive up to five inches of rain, causing coastal erosion and flooding. “Additional heavy rains may result in isolated runoff issues, especially across recent burn scars,” the Weather Prediction Center said.

“As the system moves into the Plains early next week, a springlike storm system develops,” Chad Myers, CNN Meteorologist explained. “Significant severe weather will occur in the warm air across the South and a major snow and ice event will happen in the western Great Lakes and northern Plains.”

California Snow to Become Midwest Blizzard, Southern Tornadoes

As the snow and rain work their way out of California, the Atmospheric River will bring blizzard conditions to the northern Plains and Midwest, dousing the country in snow, wind, ice, and freezing rain from Colorado to Wisconsin.

According to the National Weather Service office in North Dakota, difficult travel conditions will effect the area from Monday to Wednesday with “heavy snow, reduced visibility, and drifting snow.”

The massive storm will cause icy roadways and near-whiteout conditions, making travel impossible in some areas. There’s also a strong possibility of power outages across the country. “While some uncertainty persists, confidence is increasing that strong winds and significant snows will produce hazardous impacts across much of the Central/Northern Plains and into the Upper Midwest,” the Weather Prediction Center said.

Finally, the eastern states are under threat of severe storms including tornadoes, large hail, and damaging winds. These conditions will spread across Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi on Tuesday.

“While tornadoes in December are relatively uncommon when compared to the springtime, they are often more likely across portions of the Southeast and Lower Mississippi Valley, where there is often a secondary peak in the fall and winter,” said meteorologist Matthew Elliott.