- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2017

RENO, Nev. (AP) - More winter snow and rain pummeled the West on Thursday as the first in a series of expected storms soaked morning commuters in much of California, dumped 18 more inches of snow in the Sierra Nevada and closed schools in Oregon.

The first of three anticipated winter storms hit the Lake Tahoe area, with another 6 feet of snow possible by Monday in the upper elevations of the Sierra Nevada.

Winds in excess of 100 mph are possible and could churn up waves on the lake as high as 5 feet on Sunday, forecasters said.

Since Jan. 1, more than 15 feet of snow has fallen at some Tahoe area resorts - the most in more than five years.

Mike Dulinawka was busy taking reservations for weekend snowmobile tours at the Zephyr Cove Resort near Stateline, Nevada.

“We’ve been sold out for the last couple of weekends. It’s great. We’re definitely loving the snow,” he said.

Californians endured snarled morning commutes, downed trees and heavy snow in the mountains.

A storm system dumped nearly an inch of rain on San Francisco and more than 3 inches at some locations in the Napa-Sonoma wine country.

In Southern California’s Santa Monica Mountains, rain fell at rates of up to a half-inch an hour and a rockslide closed canyon roads near Malibu.

In Sacramento, a windstorm with gusts topping 50 mph destroyed three historic trees Wednesday night that were planted at the California Capitol about 120 years ago to honor Civil War veterans.

“We lost three grand ones,” said Democratic Assemblyman Ken Cooley.

The National Weather Service in San Diego warned that five-day rainfall totals would likely be substantial and that mud and debris flows could occur as heavy rains fell on wildfire burn scars east of Los Angeles.

In Phoenix, a hot air balloon festival was canceled due to a winter storm warning. Forecasters said winds could gust to 40 mph beginning Friday night.

Architect Neil Davison, a 58-year-old sport balloonist, said he has been caught in windier weather.

“If you want to know what it’s like, then get in your laundry basket and jump out of your car at 25 mph,” the Phoenix resident said.

Grand Canyon National Park closed some roads on the South Rim due to snow and unsafe driving conditions.

The road woes were also felt to the north in Oregon. A 45-mile stretch of Interstate 84 between Troutdale and Hood River remained closed because of ice.

The temperature in Hood River was expected to climb to slightly above freezing, melting some of the ice that has turned the highway into a skating rink.

With snow and ice hanging around, schools were closed in several districts along with some state agency offices.

Between 12 and 15 inches of fresh snow fell in southeastern Oregon overnight, closing parts of Interstate 84 north of Ontario.

Washington transportation officials said conditions on Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass had improved enough to allow crews to start clean-up efforts. They hoped to re-open the eastbound lanes later in the day.

Crews were also working to break up and move 20 to 30 trees that came down onto the interstate during this week’s ice storm, officials said.

In California, two more storms were expected to arrive Thursday night and Sunday.

Overall, California has seen a significant retreat from the once-statewide drought. About 58 percent of the state remains in moderate, severe, extreme or exceptional stages of drought.

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AP writers Michelle A. Monroe in Phoenix, Kristin Bender in San Francisco, Martha Bellisle in Seattle, Steven DuBois and Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Oregon, Christopher Weber is Los Angeles, and Don Thompson in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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Eds: This story corrects an early version that misspelled the last name of Mike Dulinawka at the Zephyr Cove Resort at Lake Tahoe.

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