FRESNO, Calif. – Fall looked a lot like winter across Northern California on Monday as the first major storm of the season spawned at least one tornado, brought out snow plows on Interstate 80 and showered the rest of the parched region with much-needed rain.
The tornado touched down 40 miles north of Sacramento. Only minor damage was reported when it hit at 3:15 p.m. near Yuba City.
There were several other reports of funnel clouds north of Sacramento, but no others touched down, said National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Kurth.
Forecasters were calling for up to 2 feet of snow at the highest elevations in the northern Sierra Nevada, a good sign for a state dependent on winter snow accumulation for its water supply.
"It looks like Mother Nature threw us our first snowball," said Rochelle Jenkins of Caltrans, which was enforcing chain controls above 4,300 feet on I-80, the state's main highway from San Francisco to Reno, Nev.
There were reports of downed power lines and trees across the northern half of the state.
Despite the threat of rain, the skies remained clear so the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals could play the deciding seventh game of the National League Championship Series at AT&T Park
Before the game there was a 30 to 40 percent chance of scattered showers across the region at game time, said Charles Bell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
"It's one of these cases where one city could pick up a little, but one 20 miles away would be dry," he said. "If any go through it will be relatively light — less than a tenth of an inch — and fairly brief."
Earlier in the day, chain controls were in effect on U.S. Highway 50 southwest of Lake Tahoe. By late morning, nearly an inch of rain had fallen on Sacramento.
Law enforcement authorities were working most of the morning to clear five jackknifed big rigs that forced the closing of Highway 20 east of Nevada City, where at least 6 inches of snow had accumulated by midmorning.
Caltrans, meanwhile, worked to keep traffic flowing through a 10-mile construction zone on I-80 about 75 miles northeast of Sacramento, using plows to toss snow over concrete barriers.
A winter storm warning above 5,500 feet was in effect until 5 a.m. Tuesday. The heaviest snowfall was expected on Monday, though snow showers were expected into Tuesday night, said Karl Swanberg, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.
More widespread precipitation was expected to move across Northern California on Wednesday.
In the southern Sierra Nevada, the California Highway Patrol issued a chain warning for Highway 168 near Shaver Lake. Yosemite National Park was expecting about 8 inches of snow above 6,000 feet. Tioga Pass and Glacier Point Road were closed at 10 p.m. Sunday, but officials intended to assess conditions on both as weather improves.
The storm system originated in the Gulf of Alaska and has stalled over the Pacific Northwest, bringing colder temperatures and gusty winds of 80 mph at the crests of the Sierra Nevada.
Don Thompson contributed to this report from Sacramento.