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California walloped as snow storms, rare in some places this winter, strike parts of US
A late season storm is bringing heavy snows to California's high country, a welcome influx after an especially dry winter. But snow storms are also creating avalanche conditions in Colorado and forcing some schools to close in New York.
Forecasters predicted storms would keep hammering the Lake Tahoe area, the northeast part of the California and around Yosemite National Park well into Thursday.
Although sunny skies were forecast for the weekend, the storm was expected to pick up strength overnight before bringing another two feet of snow and the possibility of 100 mph wind gusts to the northern Sierra during the morning commute.
Up to 5 feet of snow was predicted at the highest elevations of the northern Sierra Nevada.
"It's a pretty typical storm, it's just not typical this year," said Johnnie Powell, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.
But the precipitation should be a boon to the 28 million Californians who depend on snowmelt to meet their water needs.
The Northern California storm could ease fears among the 29 agencies that depend on snowmelt delivered through the State Water Project. Some farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley already have been told to expect just half of the water they requested for the spring and summer growing seasons.
Snow also created problems in parts of the northern U.S. with some New England states expecting anywhere from an inch of snow to a foot, enough to cause some school districts to cancel or delay classes.
Albany, N.Y., saw its first significant snowfall of the season on Wednesday, forcing schools to send students home early ahead of the storm and leading to the cancellation of sporting events in the evening.
The National Weather Service said up to 5 inches of snow had fallen in parts of upstate New York by 11 p.m.
The storm is expected to dump a foot or more through Thursday.
Snowy conditions were blamed for an accident that killed one person and injured at least four others in the Hudson Valley town of Newburgh.
Residents of North and South Dakota who had been warned to brace for winter's worst Wednesday wound up digging out from relatively modest snowfalls and prepared for a lighter dusting Thursday.
The foot-plus promised in most areas was a few inches at most. Above-freezing temperatures in some spots kept the would-be snow as simply rain.
By late afternoon, the National Weather Service canceled most of its blizzard and winter weather advisories for both states.
In Colorado, avalanche forecasters warned of dangerous conditions in the backcountry of the state's southwest after some areas received as much as two feet of snow with the potential of one more foot.
The deluge was fast and furious in the mountains of Northern California, where falling snow and drifts blown by gusting winds cut visibility Wednesday to a quarter-mile or less on Interstate 80, the main highway from San Francisco to Nevada.
The California Department of Transportation required chains for 4-wheel drive vehicles without snow tires, imposed lower speed limits and closed isolated stretches of several mountain passes due to heavy snow.
The National Weather Service said the snow level dropped to 3,000 feet in the northern Sierra Nevada Wednesday, with an inch of snow falling each hour.
"Skiers can go have all of the fun they want on the weekend. It worked out perfectly," said weather forecaster Powell. "It should be plowed out and there should be plenty of fresh powder."
Strong winds and heavy rain made for difficult driving conditions on San Francisco Bay area roads.
The National Weather Service also issued a high surf advisory for the San Francisco and Monterey bay areas, warning that the turbulent weather could produce waves up to 15-feet high and strong rip currents.
Associated Press writers Dave Kolpack and Blake Nicholson in Fargo, N.D., and Terry Collins, Louise Chu and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco contributed to this report.