The weather is about to turn cold, wet and very windy.
Two storms are expected to bring heavy rain to the Northern San Joaquin Valley and blizzard conditions to the mountains beginning today, according to the National Weather Service. Forecasters predict the valley also will face the strongest wind in a decade.
The storms coming out of the Gulf of Alaska won't give residents much time to recover through the weekend.
"They're going to come right on the heels of one another," said Cynthia Palmer, a wea-ther service forecaster.
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A south wind of 20 mph to 35 mph is possible starting tonight ahead of the stronger storm Friday. The weather serv-ice said Friday's wind gusts could hit 40 mph in the valley and as much as 65 mph in the foothills, with higher gusts over the peaks.
Forecasters predict rain today through Saturday for the Modesto area with the chances of rain decreasing Sunday and into next week. Pal-mer said the storms are expected to dump 2 to 5 inches of rain on the valley by Sunday.
She said snow levels initially will be at 6,000 feet in the central Sierra east of Sonora, but the snow levels are expected to drop to 4,500 feet Friday and possibly to 2,500 feet by Saturday.
The Lake Tahoe region could accumulate up to 10 feet of fresh snow by Sunday at higher elevations, forecasters predict. That's good news for ski resorts but bad news for people driving over mountain passes to get there.
The California Highway Patrol urged drivers to be aware of the possibility of flooded roads, wind gusts and low visibility.
The combination of strong wind and several inches of snowfall per hour creates dangerous and blizzardlike conditions in the mountains, said officer Tom Wills in the CHP's Sonora office.
He said heavy snowfall is expected in higher elevations, where "whiteout conditions" could develop.
"That's when you get vertical snow and there's snow flying everywhere," said Wills, who experienced similar weather while living in North Dakota for four years. "It's worse than driving in fog. Your whole world is white."
If you must drive in higher elevations this weekend, Wills said, keep the gas tank full and carry food, water, blankets and shovels to clear snow from tailpipes and tires.
If heavy, blowing snow develops, Wills said, drivers should look for markers on the side of the road called "snow stakes" to keep the vehicle on the road.
A blizzard warning is in effect for the mountains from 4 a.m. Friday to 4 a.m. Saturday, according to the weather service.
Sustained wind may bring down large tree limbs as well as shallow-rooted trees. Forecasters urge residents to tie down loose objects outside or bring them inside.
If drivers are caught in windy weather, Wills said, "Keep both hands on the steering wheel and keep the speed down."
Before traveling, check California road conditions by calling 800-427-7623 or 916-445-1534, or go to www.dot.ca.gov/cgi-bin/roads.cgi.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2394.