Sierra travelers trapped by back-to-back storms that dropped more than 2 feet of snow have a brief window to pass, before the arrival of a weather system Saturday so wet forecasters are calling it an “atmospheric river.” Up to 12 inches of rain below 8,500 feet are expected, and massive amounts of snow — up to 6 feet — above that elevation. A fifth, colder storm two days behind that will drop yet more heavy snow.

“It’s a once-in-10-year event,” said Zach Tolby, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno. “It’s the strongest storm we’ve seen in a long time, the kind of setup we look for to get significant flooding.” Colfax, the turnaround town, is ready. “It’s something we prepare for — it goes with the snow, hand in hand,” said Wes Heathcock, community services director for the tiny Placer County town that has perhaps one of the most used Interstate 80 on/off ramps in Northern California when it is a snow day.  READ MORE