Snow blasts California and freezes Pacific Northwest

MANUEL VALDES
The Associated Press

SEATTLE — Severe weather sweeping parts of the U.S. brought frigid temperatures to the Pacific Northwest, heavy snow to mountains in Northern California and Nevada and unseasonable warmth to Texas and the Southeast. 

Emergency warming shelters were opened throughout Oregon and western Washington as temperatures plunged into the teens and forecasters said an arctic blast would last for several days. Sunday's snow showers blew into the Pacific Northwest from the Gulf of Alaska, dumping up to 6 inches across the Seattle area.

More:York got a dusting of snow Monday: Could we see more?

More than a foot was reported near Port Angeles across the Puget Sound on the Olympic Peninsula. Portland, Oregon, also received snowfall. Frigid temperatures in the region could tie or break records in the coming days.

The National Weather Service said Seattle's low Sunday was 20 degrees F, breaking a mark set in 1948. Bellingham was 9 degrees F, three degrees colder than the previous record set in 1971.

State officials in Oregon have declared an emergency. In Multnomah County – home to Portland — six severe weather shelters are open with plans to open additional sites, including at the Oregon Convention Center. Seattle city leaders also opened at least six severe weather shelters starting Saturday through at least Wednesday.

Winter weather led to canceled flights in Seattle, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, blowing snow in mountains of Northern California and Nevada closed key highways, with forecasters warning that travel in the Sierra Nevada could be difficult for several days. 

While snowfall was picturesque in places such as along Broad Street in Nevada City, Calif., it was dangerous for many others who were without electricity or stuck in the snow. (Elias Funez/The Union via AP)

At Donner Pass in the Sierra, officials with the University of California, Berkeley's Central Sierra Snow Laboratory on Monday said recent snowfall has smashed the snowiest December record of 179 inches, set in 1970. The record is now 193.7 inches as more snow is expected. 

The Northstar California Resort in Truckee closed its mountain operations on Monday amid blizzard conditions. The ski resort has received more than 6 feet of snow over the last 48 hours, according to the  resort's Facebook post.

Search and rescue crews are looking for a missing skier who was last seen Saturday morning on a lift at the ski resort, KCRA  reported.

The snowpack in the Sierra was at dangerously low levels after recent weeks of dry weather but the state  Department of Water Resources reported on Monday that the snowpack was between 145% and 161% of normal across the range with more snow expected.

In Nevada, freezing air and blinding snow blasted across the northern part of the state on Monday, affecting travel and business, closing Sierra Nevada highway passes, delaying airport flights and shutting state offices. 

Interstate 80 remained closed due to poor visibility and heavy snow from the Nevada state line to Placer County, California. An avalanche blocked a state route that connects Tahoe City to some ski resorts in Olympic Valley and authorities urged motorists to avoid nonessential travel. 

Several flights were also canceled or delayed at Reno-Tahoe International Airport and at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas, where skies were clear but nearby mountains were capped by snow. 

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered nonessential state workers other than public safety and corrections personnel to remain home due to the storm.

Weather and travel advisories stretched to northeast Nevada and Elko due to the possibility of blowing and drifting snow.

The storms that have been pummeling California and Nevada in recent days also brought rain and snow to Arizona. A record inch of rain in one day was reported at the airport in Phoenix Friday when 11 inches of snow fell at the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort just outside Flagstaff. Another 6 inches of snow were recorded in the 24 hours ending Monday morning. 

More storms are expected to hit the desert state starting Monday afternoon and continuing throughout the week. 

Temperatures were unseasonably warm in parts of the Southern Plains, including in Arkansas, where several cities broke records on Christmas Day for daily high temperatures.

But forecasters warned that severe storms were possible midweek when a storm system moves through the Deep South, with Alabama and Mississippi at greatest risk for bad weather, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

Heavy snow will start winding down by Monday evening in California's Sierra Nevada and the area is expected to get a break from the cold snap by Thursday, said Emily Heller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. 

Temperatures in western Washington and Oregon aren't forecast to rise above freezing until at least Thursday, and possibly not until the weekend, forecasters said.