Rain and snow fall as California braces for the worst of the storm

The western United States braces for the full force of a major winter storm set to strike Monday, bringing travel headaches, the threat of localized flooding and some relief in an unusually warm fall .

Light rain and snow fell in northern California on Sunday, giving residents a taste of what to expect. The multi-day storm could drop more than 2.4 meters of snow on the highest peaks and inundate other parts of California as it moves south and east before moving through mid week.

“It’s a pretty common occurrence,” 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 entire region affected by drought caused by 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 of the reservoirs that provide water to states, cities, tribes, farmers and utilities depend on the spring snowmelt.

This week’s storm is typical of this time of year but notable as it is the first big snowfall that is expected to significantly affect travel with ice and snow on the roads, strong winds and limited visibility, Wanless said. On Sunday, drivers in some mountain passes had to wrap their tires in chains.

Authorities urged people to delay their travel and stay indoors. The rain could cause minor flooding and landslides, especially in areas that have been marked by forest fires, according to forecasts. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has issued evacuation warnings for several areas, citing the potential for flooding. Los Angeles County firefighters urged residents to be aware of the potential for mudslides.

Forecasters also said the strong winds accompanying the storm could cause power outages. Karly Hernandez, spokesperson for Pacific Gas & Electric, said the utility that covers much of California did not experience any major outages on Sunday. Teams and equipment are deployed statewide to respond quickly to power outages, Hernandez said.

Rain fell intermittently over California on Sunday. Andy Naja-Riese, chief executive of the Marin Agricultural Institute, said farmers’ markets continued as usual in San Rafael and San Francisco in light winds.

The markets are especially busy this time of year with farmers making jellies, jams and sauces for the holidays, he said. And, he said, rain is always needed in a parched state.

“In a lot of ways it’s really a blessing,” Naja-Riese said.

Lichen Crommett, director of the San Lorenzo Garden Center in Santa Cruz, Calif., Said guests were not put off by light rain on Sunday morning.

“It’s not raincoat-worthy yet, but that could change at any time,” she said.

A second storm expected to hit California mid-week could produce nearly continuous snow, said Edan Weishahn of the Reno Weather Service, which monitors an area straddling the Nevada state border. Donner Summit, one of the highest points on Interstate 80 and a major suburban trade route, could have major travel disruptions or road closures, Weishahn said.

The weather follows a calm and unusually warm November.

“With this storm coming, it’s going to be a wake-up call for a lot of people,” Weishahn said.

All three Vail Resorts ski resorts in the Tahoe area opened with limited offers over the weekend after crews worked to produce artificial snow. Spokeswoman Sara Roston said resorts are eagerly awaiting more real things.

“We will assess once the storm hits, but we plan to open up more ground afterwards,” she wrote in an email.

Meanwhile, the Sierra Avalanche Center has warned that heavy snow and strong winds over a weak snowpack could cause large and destructive avalanches. A man died at a ski resort in the Pacific Northwest on Saturday when he was caught in an avalanche that temporarily buried five others.

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Associated Press writer Amy Taxin, Orange County, Calif., Contributed to this story.

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