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Forecasters say skiers heading to Sierra Nevada won't be disappointed this weekend
Skiers heading to the slopes for the weekend shouldn't be disappointed after a late winter storm dumped at least 6 feet of snow at some of the higher elevations of California's Sierra Nevada.
The heavy snow was also welcome in a state hit by an especially dry winter, but officials say much more precipitation is needed to replenish water supplies and avoid reducing allotments to farmers.
Light snow showers lingered but the powerful weather system that moved across the region this week was expected to depart later Friday morning, leaving clear skies and mild temperatures, forecasters said.
"People will be able to enjoy the snow," said Jim Mathews, a National Weather Service meteorologist
He called the snow fall one of the more significant this winter. "We've had very few storms this season that have created so much snow."
The heavy snow Thursday exerted its pull on skiers to a remote area in the upper elevations of Placer County, where one was injured when he was caught in an avalanche, authorities said.
The skier was hospitalized, possibly suffering from a broken leg, after being taken down the side of a mountain in a basket dragged by a rescue team on skis, said Placer County sheriff's spokeswoman Dena Erwin.
A winter storm warning for the region was lifted Thursday afternoon.
On Interstate 80, the main highway between Northern California and Nevada, traffic was flowing without any delays Thursday evening, said Caltrans spokesman Mark Dinger.
"We had a very good day today," Dinger said. "There were no major incidents today. Traffic was very light."
Despite the heavy snowfall, California is far behind in amassing the amount needed to sustain water use in the arid state for the rest of the year. The state uses reservoirs and a system of aqueducts to deliver snowmelt to 25 million Californians who depend on it for all or part of their water.
Measurements on Thursday showed the water content of the snowpack at 34 percent of normal, the fourth-lowest reading since the 1940s, said Dave Rizzardo, chief of snow surveys for the Department of Water Resources. Last year at this time, the snowpack was 124 percent of normal and reached 165 percent by April 1.
Rizzardo said the precipitation was welcome, "but the reality is we need a lot more."
The storm is bringing fresh powder to the ski resorts, but powdery snow lacks the moisture content that Rizzardo wanted to see. Snow in the state currently holds 8 inches of water, compared with 23 inches that would be normal by this date.
"The ski resorts are happy ' it will be a nice powder day tomorrow. But we like the wet, cement stuff that really hurts you when you fall down," Rizzardo said. "Nothing personal against skiers."
The lack of water content and the unlikely prospects that enough storms will come to make up the deficit by April's melt has prompted officials to warn Central California farmers that they will receive only half of the water they requested this growing season.
The snowfall, part of a blast from the Gulf of Alaska, fell heaviest in the Northern Sierra, with smaller readings as far south as Yosemite National Park, where chains were required.
Elsewhere, Colorado's Department of Transportation closed the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 near Glenwood Springs because of accidents as a snowstorm moved into the state. Up to 6 inches of snow had fallen by Thursday afternoon in northwestern Colorado, and up to 18 inches was expected to accumulate in some areas by Friday.
Forecasters were predicting 2 to 4 inches of snow throughout Thursday just to the east of the Continental Divide.
Farther east, an overnight winter storm dumped nearly a foot of snow in parts of upstate New York by Thursday, a rare wallop in a season that's been unusually snowless.
More than half a foot of snow also fell across parts of southern Maine by midday, with the National Weather Service calling for accumulations of 5 to 15 inches by the time storm clears out late Thursday.
As in California, the snow to the northeast was a welcome sign for some students who got a snow day and for snow plow drivers happy to get back to work on Thursday.