Storms will bring both slippery travel to the Northwest and needed moisture to the much of the West in general in the coming days.
While winter has been in full swing across the eastern two-thirds of the nation since late November, the West Coast has had a hard time finding much in the way of extreme cold or snow. A change is already underway for the West.
A series of storm systems from the Pacific Ocean will not only reach the California, Oregon and Washington coasts through this weekend and into next week, but they will bring heavy precipitation.
Enough cold air will be in place to bring snow not only to the Sierra Nevada and Cascades, but also to areas along the coast in the Northwest. Pockets of heavy snow will extend well inland as far as the Colorado Rockies.
The greatest amount of snow and rain will be focused from northern California to southern Washington border through the weekend.
Rounds of wintry precipitation will fall around Portland, Ore., into Sunday. Initially, snow will fall, but a transition to ice and later cold rain will occur over the weekend. There is the potential for a heavy amount of snow and ice.
Accompanying the snow will be strong winds from the east blowing through the Columbia River Gorge as high pressure funnels cold air toward the coast.
Areas such as Troutdale, Multnomah Falls, Cascade Locks and Corbett, all in Oregon, will likely endure blizzard conditions and very difficult travel at times into Saturday.
Those expecting to travel on I-84 through the Gorge should be prepared for very hazardous conditions, such as blinding snow, whiteouts, extreme cold, road closures and the possibility of becoming stranded.
Enough snow to shovel and plow are forecast around the Oregon Route 97 corridor and The Dalles and Bend, Ore. Some locations in this swath will receive over a foot of snow.
Similarly, those who will head south on I-5 will need to be ready for slippery and dangerous road conditions, especially when traveling through higher elevations south of Eugene.
Dry air to the north will slow the northward advance of the snow. As a result snow is a touch call around the Seattle, Wash., metro area with the greatest chance of a couple of inches toward Tacoma, Wash. Any precipitation that falls beyond the day Sunday is likely to fall as rain along the coast.
Snowfall in Portland through this weekend will average 4 to 8 inches with the chance of sleet and freezing rain mixing in Saturday night. In the Oregon Cascades, snowfall of several feet are forecast.
Farther south into California, rounds of heavy rain and snow will fall into early next week.
Cumulative snowfall accumulations will generally range from a few inches in the elevations above 5,000 feet to several feet over peaks and ridges.
According to Western Weather Expert Ken Clark, "In the Sierra Nevada, elevations above 7,500 feet will pick up between 3 and 6 feet of snow through Sunday."
In terms of the ongoing drought that has gripped parts of the West for years, the moisture with this system will only make a dent in the huge precipitation deficit that has occurred.
In many areas along the West coast, anywhere from 18 to as much as 36 inches of rainfall is needed to bring an end to the drought, and that does not appear likely in the pattern.
The storms will bring episodes of strong winds in the mountains.
"From later Friday through Sunday, wind gusts in the Sierra Nevada will range between 40 and 80 mph with gusts to near 100 mph over the ridges," Clark said.
However, the rain and snow will bring some short-term benefits.
The rain will dampen the landscape and reduce the wildfire threat. It will also bring a boost to ski resorts in the region. It may be enough to put some water back into area streams. As much as 6 inches of water may be locked up in the snowfall over the mountains, which will be released in the spring.
Occasional rain is in the offing for Monterey, Calif., and the Pebble Beach Pro-Am through this weekend. Temperatures will be mainly in the 50s.
One or two rounds of rain will reach Southern California, including Los Angeles and San Diego, but that rainfall will be light and spotty. Enough rain can fall to briefly dampen the landscape.
The rain can also make road surfaces slick, when combined with oil residue.
AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski contributed content to this story.
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