California Blizzard: Winter Storm Harper Forecast 'Life Threatening,' Avalanche Warning Issued

Residents in parts of California have been told to brace themselves for a potentially life-threatening blizzard. The National Weather Service said the severe winter storm which has been hammering the West coast is expected to continue through to the end of the week.

Forecasters said very heavy snow is expected to hit the Sierra Nevada area, such as the Lassen Volcanic National Park, and also the mountains of northern California, including higher elevations of Western Plumas County.

Read more: California braces for winter storms bringing snow, flooding and mudslides

A blizzard warning has been put in effect for areas above 6,500 feet for Thursday morning (January 17). Heavy snowfall is also forecast in areas above 5,500 feet, with as much as six feet of snow expected to fall in some of the higher areas.

"In addition to the heavy snow, heavy rain will also fall across the lower elevations, with most of it happening through Thursday evening," The National Weather Service said in a forecast.

The blizzard warning is only the fifth issued for the Sierra Nevada area in the past 10 years. Experts are warning those in affected areas to avoid travel if possible as the unsettled weather could result in people being stuck in their vehicles for a long period of time.

"If you must travel, prepare for long delays and carry an emergency kit with extra food, water and clothing. If you stay home, have a backup plan in case of power outages," a National Weather Service spokesperson said.

"This is a life-threatening situation, especially in the higher elevations. Road crews and first responders may not be able to rescue you. Stay indoors until the snow and wind subside. Even a short walk could be deadly if you become disoriented."

Elsewhere, the Sierra Avalanche Center has issued a Backcountry Avalanche Warning for the areas around Lake Tahoe until Friday morning. The main affected areas are the Central Sierra Nevada mountains between Yuba Pass (Highway 49) on the north and Ebbetts Pass (Highway 4) on the south.

"Blizzard conditions and existing weak layers in the snowpack have created very dangerous and complex avalanche conditions," the center said in a statement. "Expect widespread, large, and destructive avalanche activity in the mountains. Natural avalanches are likely and human-triggered avalanches are very likely."

The center adds that "very dangerous" avalanche conditions are expected across all terrains and travel in any area is not recommended.

california weather
Vehicles make their way under heavy rain on the 710 Freeway in Long Beach, California, on January 16, 2019, as southern California is hit by another storm. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images