×

Storms Set to Batter California as Northeast Grapples With Snow

Drought-stricken California communities battened down the hatches Thursday ahead of gusty winds, heavy rain and heavy mountain snow that the National Weather Service warned could be one of the biggest storms in five years. Meanwhile, a nor'easter dumped more than 20 inches of snow in parts of Upstate New York, Pennsylvania and New England, meteorologists said.

Read MoreCold snap could be hot for winter retail sales

People pick up free sandbags at the San Francisco Department of Public Works before a severe storm expected to bring high winds and heavy rain that could topple trees and cause widespread flooding.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
People pick up free sandbags at the San Francisco Department of Public Works before a severe storm expected to bring high winds and heavy rain that could topple trees and cause widespread flooding.

In California, heavy rains and winds of up to 60-miles-an-hour were headed towards San Francisco and would likely hit the city later on Thursday and into Friday. "The rain [in California] will really increase through the morning and into the afternoon," said Michael Palmer, lead meteorologist at The Weather Channel.

More From NBC News:
Report: Asian-American Elderly in Poor Economic Health
Jalopy-driving waitress gets tip of a lifetime: a shiny car
Is 2014 the Hottest or Coldest Year on Record?

On Wednesday evening, crews cleared storm drains and residents loaded up on sandbags of the weather system that was expected to pack hurricane-force winds capable of toppling trees and power lines and heavy rains that could cause streams and rivers to flood, according to NBC Bay Area.

The National Weather Service warned that major flooding was possible in Mendocino County, California, where the Eel River could reach 26.1 feet by Friday at Fernbridge — more than 12 feet above flood stage.

In Atascadero on California's central coast, organizers canceled Friday's scheduled Winter Wonderland holiday festival because of expected heavy rain, NBC station KSBY of San Luis Obispo reported. In Orland in Glenn County, officials already had thousands of sandbags prepared to hand out to residents, along with newly repaired chainsaws to deal with downed trees, City Manager Pete Carr told NBC station KNVN of Chico.

On the East Coast, a weather system that had dumped snow and rain across the region was winding down. "From the Adirondacks to the Catskills, there have been 20-plus inches of snow in the last 24 hours," Palmer said.

Read More Cash for grass changing the landscape in Calif. drought

The storm was expected to peter-out Friday, except for a few lingering light snow showers. "The steadiest and heaviest snow Thursday should occur in western New York and northwest Pennsylvania with snow showers across the remainder of NY/PA and New England," according to The Weather Channel.