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'Safe travel window' is over in Sierra Nevada as major snowstorm gets underway

The snow, expected to last through the weekend, could bring 6 to 10 feet to parts of the Sierra Nevada above 7,000 feet.
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Snow began falling in California’s Sierra Nevada on Thursday and was expected to continue through the weekend, forecasters said as the mountains faced up to 10 feet of snow from a winter storm.

“Your safe travel window is over in the Sierra — best to hunker down where you are,” the National Weather Service in Reno, Nevada, which covers parts of California that include Lake Tahoe and Donner Pass, said on X.

The danger of avalanches at all elevations in the eastern Sierra was expected to rise to high Friday, the weather service said.

Image: Blizzard Conditions, And Snow Of Up To 12 Feet Expected In California's Sierra Nevada
Snowplows along Interstate 80 near Soda Springs, Calif., in the Sierra Nevada mountains at the start of a powerful winter storm on Thursday.Mario Tama / Getty Images

“By late afternoon, increasing snowfall and strong to extreme southwest winds will build dense slabs at all elevations. Conditions will continue to deteriorate overnight and throughout the weekend,” the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center said in an alert.

The center issued an avalanche watch until 7 a.m. Sunday.

By the time the storm is over Sunday, Donner Pass — named for the ill-fated expedition that became stranded by snow in the 1840s — could get between 5 and 10 feet of snow.

The weather service in Sacramento said conditions along the Interstate 80 were deteriorating overnight, with increasing snowfall and winds. "Travel is *HIGHLY* discouraged!!" the service said on X.

A blizzard warning was in place for the area, including Lake Tahoe communities, until 10 a.m. Sunday. The weather service warned that blizzard conditions were especially likely from Friday evening to Saturday morning.

There could be whiteout conditions with zero visibility, the weather service said.

South Lake Tahoe, which has a population of around 21,000, said workers used an anti-icing treatment for roads and recommended against travel.

"The forecast for Heavy Snow is holding and it’s looking pretty grey out there!" the city said on Facebook Thursday.

South Lake Tahoe police told outsiders to stay away.

"If you live here, please take time to get supplies and be ready. If you’re from out of the area, we don’t recommend travel to the Lake Tahoe region this weekend. Please heed these warnings and stay safe," the police department said on social media.

Thursday night blizzard warnings covered a swath of eastern California bordering the Nevada state line, from the tiny community of Bieber south to Mammoth Lakes and other areas.

The number of people affected was estimated at more than 555,000, and included areas of eastern Nevada, which also had blizzard warnings, according to the weather service.

The National Parks Service advised visitors to leave Yosemite National Park by Friday afternoon and not to return until Sunday.