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California storm brings avalanche warning in Sierra, rain to Big Bear

December 19, 2010 |  2:31 pm

A fierce winter storm is dumping several feet of fresh snow in the Mammoth and Lake Tahoe ski areas, prompting forecasters to issue avalanche warnings in the backcountry there.

But in ski resorts closer to Los Angeles, the storms are dropping rain in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ski resorts, leaving sloppy conditions, the National Weather Service said.

"The snow level is too high" for powder to be falling in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains, said Tina Stall, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in San Diego. The storms are "tapping moisture from the tropics, so it's warm." Big Bear City saw 0.85 inche of rain so far this weekend; Wrightwood, 1.26; and Lake Arrowhead, 1.29.

Fresh powder, however, may arrive in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ski resorts Tuesday and Wednesday, when the snow level will drop down to 6,000 or 6,500 feet, Stall said.

In the meantime, aided by colder weather farther north, ski resorts in Northern California have been accumulating impressive amounts of snow. At Mammoth Mountain, 9 feet of new snow has fallen at the top of the peak since Friday morning, and 6.5 feet has fallen at its base.

"Measuring snow in inches is *so* last week: we busted out the yardstick," @MammothMountain bragged on its Twitter page.

Other accumulations were significant, with the Mount Rose Ski Area seeing 50 inches of fresh powder; Truckee, 42; Alpine Meadows, 53; and Kirkwood Ski Area, 52. Some roads are being closed because of avalanche concerns; U.S. Highway 395 was closed between the Nevada border and Bridgeport; and power lines were reported down near the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, said the National Weather Service office in Reno.

By the end of the storm, as much as 5 to 10 feet of snow could be dropped in the Sierra, with snowfall rates of 2 to 4 inches an hour. Forecasters warned of "dangerous and life threatening conditions...due to rapid snow accumulations, near zero visibility and strong winds. Motorists should consider postponing travel plans to avoid dangerous travel conditions," the weather service said.

"It's going to make a great base for the ski resorts, especially right before the holiday," said Edan Lindaman, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Reno. 

The rain broke records for this day in Bakersfield and Fresno. The National Weather Service said streets in Bakersfield were partially flooded with water or mud, citing reports from its employees and a local TV station. 

Visitors arriving in Yosemite National Park for Christmas were reporting miserable conditions, but main roads in and out of the park were open. A winter storm warning was in effect for elevations above 7,000 feet.

For those traveling for the holiday season, Accuweather.com's Mike Pigott said the storm hovering over California is moving east toward the Rocky Mountains and could strike the East Coast on Christmas Day, hitting Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. Those cities could see their first significant snowfall on Christmas Day since 2002.

The storm could also dump 3 to 6 inches of snowfall on Monday in Minneapolis, which will be hosting Monday night's football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears.

The game will be played outdoors at the University of Minnesota campus after the Metrodome's roof caved in last week from the weight of heavy snow. Minnesota last week faced its worst blizzard since 1991.

-- Rong-Gong Lin II and Jason Felch