Atmospheric River, record snow: Extreme weather slams West Coast and Hawaii

By Jeff Berardelli

/ CBS News

Hawaii winter storm makes dangerous waves

The hashtag #SnOMG has been making the rounds this week — and for once it's not an exaggeration. From surprise snow showers in the tropics to snowed-in ski resorts, extreme weather has ruled the week out West.

The extreme weather is due to a powerful Pacific Ocean jet stream pattern. Part of the polar jet stream is angled straight south along the U.S. West Coast from Alaska, driving not only cold, but also a parade of storms southward.

In California, the southern branch of the polar jet stream has collided with the sub-tropical jet stream. The result is an extreme 230-mph Atmospheric River, also known as the Pineapple Express, plowing into the coast. It is partially powered by the historic storm now moving away from Hawaii.

It's been a wild few days in Hawaii as the historic storm pummeled the Island chain. Wicked winds gusting up to 191 mph were reported on top of Mauna Kea. For perspective, the highest wind gust reported by monster Hurricane Irma was only 9 mph greater. The storm whipped up waves to 50 feet. Even the locals stopped to check out the surf show.

Surf’s REALLY up in Haleiwa, HI! They’ve been having some wild waves in Hawaii this weekend! #hiwx
📸: Matt Phelps pic.twitter.com/OHVJrSYgwg

— Meredith Garofalo (@GarofaloWX) February 11, 2019

Meteorologists commonly refer to storms like this as "cold-core," because they tend to have a lot of cold air in the mid and upper levels. That was evident when snow starting flying at the lowest elevation ever reported in Maui: At Polipoli State Park, 6,200 feet above sea level.

#Maui snow pic.twitter.com/NOGgQF0mKl

— Tammy Perrin (@MauiMountainMom) February 12, 2019

Maui wasn't the only tropical palm tree paradise to see the flakes fly this week. A burst of snow on the Las Vegas Strip looked like a brief blizzard.

Snow falling in Vegas over the weekend 👀🤨❄️ 🎥 Caleb Steele📍Las Vegas, Nevada#vegassnow #lasvegasstrip #nevada #lasvegastrip #lasvegasnevada #vegasweather #nvwx #palmtree #snowy #snowing #vegasstrip #vegasweekend #snow #vegasbaby pic.twitter.com/kWzozkSL3x

— Life With Weather (@lifewithweather) February 11, 2019

It did not amount to much. Measurable snow falls about once every five years there.

Snow is also a rare sight for the palm trees of coastal California. This was the scene near Eureka, northern California:

Northern California beaches dusted with snow in latest storm https://t.co/5ObxF0np3k pic.twitter.com/Reri6ZW0RU

— The Press Democrat (@NorthBayNews) February 11, 2019

Redding, California, a city that averages only 2 inches of snow per winter, picked up 10-14 inches in less than 24 hours. That's just short of the one-day record snowfall of 16 inches.

Redding saw 10-14" of snow last night into today. The last time Redding saw accumulating snow was January 2017. Snow levels have come up and snow is not expected for Redding through the weekend. #CAwx pic.twitter.com/iFylPKwHWU

— NWS Sacramento (@NWSSacramento) February 13, 2019

So far this winter, Redding has seen more than triple the snow than Boston, Massachusetts.

Seattle has seen its snowiest month in 50 years and the seventh snowiest month on record with 20.2 inches so far. It's not often you hear a ski resort complaining about too much snow, but that's just what's happening at the Summit at Snoqualmie, about 33 miles east of Seattle.

It feels wrong to say it, but we may have gotten too much snow. #SeattleSnowpocalypse #SnoqualmiePass #wawx pic.twitter.com/R6mG3GBNhd

— Summit at Snoqualmie (@SummitSnow411) February 12, 2019

The amazing near 200-knot subtropical jet stream is about to impact California — aimed at San Francisco.
This is quite extreme — even for the polar jet — but this is the southern branch. Result is fast air travel from Hawaii. 🌴 pic.twitter.com/MGK499bCSO

— Ryan Maue (@RyanMaue) February 13, 2019

The Atmospheric River in California led to high wind warnings, flash flooding along the state's coastline and another round of paralyzing snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

So far this season, the peak of Mammoth Mountain, California, has piled up an astounding 38 feet of snow, the most of any U.S. ski resort. There's more snow to come as the area could see another 8 feet of snow over the next 10 days. It's so much snow the resort says it will stay open through July 4.

People in parts of Tahoe are snowed in with "snow so high you can't see out the kitchen windows," as one witness described it.

Snow so high you can’t see out the kitchen windows. #tahoe #truckee #snowstorm #sierranevadas pic.twitter.com/ZWcgZDUBLR

— Tonia Allen Gould (@ToniaAllenGould) February 10, 2019

First published on February 14, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Jeff Berardelli

Meteorologist Jeff Berardelli is a CBS News Climate & Weather Contributor. Follow him on Twitter @WeatherProf.

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