sub-zero temperatures on tap for the Bay Area; Snow to hit the Sierra Nevada

Freezing temperatures are expected to sweep much of Northern California over the next few nights, prompting officials to open warming shelters to protect unaccommodated people from the threat of hypothermia.

The cold blast is expected to hit Sunday and continue through Wednesday, dropping temperatures to 32 degrees or colder in parts of the Bay Area. Howling winds are expected to the east, with snow showers that could drop several inches of fresh powder across the Sierra Nevada.

The National Weather Service issued a freezing warning for most parts of the inland Bay Area through 9 a.m. Monday. A freeze warning has also been issued for other parts of the Bay Area closer to the Pacific coast or the San Francisco Bay shore, as temperatures could drop below 36 degrees overnight.

The coldest areas include the Santa Clara Valley, the Santa Cruz Mountains, the East Bay Hills and the inland East Bay valleys, the weather service said. Low temperatures are expected to hit 30 in San Jose on Sunday night before dropping to 29 on Monday night. Oakland should drop to 35 degrees Sunday night while Pittsburg should hit 33 degrees. Both cities are likely to see lows in the 30s in the next few days.

“This is definitely a concern because temperatures this cold for several days are particularly dangerous for people who are unprotected,” said Sean Miller, weather forecaster for the National Weather Service.

Warmer coastal winds could help raise temperatures slightly along the Pacific Ocean. San Francisco is expected to hit a low 38 degrees on Sunday night.

A few scattered light showers could grace the Bay Area on Sunday, although precipitation totals should be paltry at best. Some areas could see a tenth of an inch of rain, although most areas can expect just a few hundredths of an inch of precipitation. The greatest chance of precipitation is south of the Golden Gate Bridge and along the peninsula.

“It’s a pretty low-moisture system,” Miller said.

Several heat shelters are expected to open Sunday night and remain operational through early this week, including a dozen daytime heat centers throughout Santa Clara County. Anyone looking for information on places to warm up overnight can call a county hotline at 408-385-2400 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. for a placement.

About 10 shelters and warming centers will open in Alameda County for people seeking refuge from the cold. In West Oakland, for example, the Alameda County St. Vincent de Paul Society also encourages people to visit their 100-bed animal shelter at 675 23rd St. A winter shelter is expected to open in San Rafael on Sunday and Monday evenings.

People can also call 211 for help finding a bed, authorities said.

Over the Sierra, about 3 to 8 inches of snow is expected to fall over Donner and Echo passes Sunday and Monday. As of Sunday morning, authorities had already implemented chain controls along Interstate 80 through the Sierra due to snowy and slippery conditions.

Reporter Ethan Varian contributed to this report.