Back-to-back weekend snow storms to slam Sierra Nevada (with forecast video)

Highway patrol truck on snow California road.

A pair of Pacific storm systems will slam California this weekend, dumping periods of significant late season snowfall in many mountain areas. The initial storm will be a quick-hitter Saturday, fading around sunset. The next storm will crank up by early Sunday, lingering into next week.

SONAR Critical Events and radar: Friday, Apr. 3, 2020, 10 a.m. EDT; Sierra Nevada weekend snow storm impact areas

Drivers will likely run into delays on Interstate 80 heading through Truckee and Donner Pass, in addition to US-50 around South Lake Tahoe, where total snowfall accumulations will approach 24 inches. Nearby areas along the Sierra Crest could see 36 inches or more, as well as parts of Mono County, including Sonora Pass. Meanwhile, up to 24 inches could pile up west of US-395 in the northern Sierra Nevada, including Yuba Pass, and in the mountains of Shasta County in northwestern California where light accumulations are possible on the I-5 corridor.

Snow levels will drop late Sunday into Monday, but winds will become very strong, gusting at 50 to 90 mph depending on elevation. Blowing and drifting snow will cause occasional whiteout conditions in some areas. Winds could also blow down tree limbs and power lines that may block roads and lead to power outages. Truckers should expect chain controls, poor visibility and significant travel delays.

Meteorologist Brian Brong with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Reno, Nevada told FreightWaves that a late season storm of this magnitude is a bit unusual.

“We do get winter storms into April, but this one looks pretty good for early April in terms of how much precipitation we can get out of this,” Brong said.

He added that the Sierra Nevada region is on the cusp of when storms of this magnitude start becoming less frequent.

Brong also mentioned that conditions over Donner Pass on Saturday will probably be wet and slushy, but snowfall will become dry and fluffier during the second storm on Sunday, making roads more dangerous.

“We’ll get some colder air out of it, so we’ll have a better chance of not only just snow sticking, but a higher rate [inches per hour] of accumulation,” Bring said.

Impact on freight

The impact zone of the impending weekend snow storms – mainly the Sierra Nevada – is within the Stockton freight market. Loads are often trucked from the Four Corners states through Stockton, heading for the West Coast.

One example is Salt Lake City to San Francisco. Despite outbound volumes decreasing over the past week or so, Salt Lake City is the 20th-largest market right now in terms of outbound volumes (OTVI.SLC) based on FreightWaves SONAR data updated this morning.


At the same time, outbound tender rejections from Salt Lake City to San Francisco (OTRI.SLCSFO) have been declining – carriers have been accepting more loads – but still remain high at more than 17%. Tender rejections are the percentage of electronic, contracted loads offered by shippers that carriers turn down because they can’t meet demand, or because they have alternatives available in terms of higher rates in the spot market. An OTRI of 10% or more often indicates tight capacity. Capacity could tighten further over the next few days with carriers more reluctant to send drivers through snow storms to get loads to the West Coast.

Have a great day! Please stay healthy and be careful out there!