Winter Storm Expected To Dump 10-Plus Feet of Snow in Sierra Nevada Mountains

Meteorologists expect a massive Pacific storm to pummel the west coast starting this Thursday, dumping rain at low elevations and snow in the mountains. It will affect much of the west, from the Pacific Northwest through the Rocky Mountains. However, the central and northern Sierra Nevada range will likely bear the brunt of the weather.

The storm is forecast to peak on Friday, with blizzard warnings in effect from Thursday morning through Sunday morning. The National Weather Service (NWS) warned locals and travelers in the Sierra to prepare for whiteout conditions starting Thursday.

“The storm will create heavy mountain snow that will affect many passes,” wrote NWS forecaster Paul Ziegenfelder on the agency’s Weather Prediction Center Short Range Public Discussion page. “Multiple feet of snow are likely (over 80 percent chance) for higher elevations, significantly above 5000 feet, including many Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountains passes. Extremely heavy snow rates surpassing 3 inches per hour are possible in these mountain ranges.”

Besides potentially dropping more than 10 feet of snow in what is predicted to be the region’s largest storm so far this year, the blizzard could bring wind gusts topping 60 mph.

Snowpack and the Pacific Crest Trail

PCT hiker ascends a snowfield near Mather Pass in June 2023. Photo: Titouan Le Roux

Pacific Crest Trail users, at least, will probably welcome the fresh snow. Hikers rely on spring melt to sustain vital drinking water sources and reduce wildfire risk on the 2,650-mile trail.

Light winters mean long water carries and fire closures later in the summer. Heavy winters, on the other hand, make foot travel through the Sierra difficult and dangerous in early summer when most thru-hikers reach the mountains. For hikers, it’s all about balance.

A series of storms in February have brought Sierra snowpack back to almost-normal levels despite it lagging well below average earlier in the winter. According to, trail snow in the Sierra is currently 84 percent of average. (Trail snow, the site emphasizes, measures accumulation on or near the PCT and is distinct from overall snowpack.)

Late-season snowfall in the Sierra is unpredictable. Hikers won’t have a reliable sense of how much of the white stuff they’ll be facing until roughly April. Still, that won’t stop them from anxiously tracking snowpack throughout the remaining winter months — especially after last year’s record-breaking winter played havoc with Class of 2023 PCT thru-hikers’ plans.

Featured image: Satellite image of California’s Sierra Nevada range captured by NASA on 11 February 2024.

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