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Treacherous Sierra Blizzard “Blowing Like a Shaken Snow Globe” Stalls Travelers, Shuts Down Tahoe Lifts

UPDATE: Sierra snowfall just broke a 51-year record and buried several ski resorts, forcing closure.

Whiteout conditions darkened the Sierra skies over the holiday weekend as a relentless blizzard blew up the mountains, shutting down major roads to Lake Tahoe, cutting power lines to the Truckee area, burying cars and blocking motorists who have crowded into hotels and roadside establishments to wait for driving conditions.

Snowfall was set to break a half-century record in December.

Cars sped past, resulting in two pilots involving 25 to 35 vehicles over 10 miles of Highway 395 between Reno and Carson City, Nevada on Sunday, spokesman Adam Mayberry of Truckee Meadows Fire and Rescue said. At least six people were taken to hospital with injuries.

Too much of a good thing on the other hand even closed ski lifts at major Tahoe area ski resorts, and the Bay Area grabbed some snow on Christmas weekend at its highest elevations.

In 20 years at Truckee, “it’s definitely the top five in terms of impressive and consistent snowfall,” Truckee board member Dave Polivy said on Sunday. “And he should be in the top three by the time this is all over who knows when.” Snow in the city center has accumulated 4 feet in places that snowplows could not reach, he reported.

“The snow is blowing like a shaken snow globe,” Bryan Allegretto said of the scene he woke up to on Sunday. The winds that howled through the night continued on Sunday as the deep, drifting spectacle built up, said Allegretto, forecaster for the OpenSnow Mountain Conditions website.

The showers stopped for a bit on Sunday afternoon, but there was no real respite on the horizon as a storm heading into the Sierra on Sunday night is expected to dump an additional 1 to 2 feet until Monday night at most. high altitudes, said Scott McGuire, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno. McGuire said conditions would remain dangerous with “gusts of wind across the region blowing snow everywhere and making visibility impossible and close to zero.”

Snowfall was 218% of the average for this time of year, he said.

“I have a feeling I won’t be able to come home tonight either,” River Ranch bartender manager Mackenzie Oskolkoff-Campbell said Sunday for the second night in a row. At Christmas, she finished work at midnight, only to find her car buried outside in white veil. She had to walk to a coworker’s home to spend Christmas night – and through galleries knee-deep to work on Sunday. In the afternoon, efforts to clear the parking lot formed clumps of snow that nearly reached the roofline of the old lodge on Highway 89 at the entrance to the Alpine Meadows ski area. Oskolkoff-Campbell doubted she could dig after her shift.

The powerful storm destroyed transmission lines and hampered efforts to restore power on Sunday, with power outages affecting all customers in the Donner Lake area, Tahoe Donner, Glenshire and downtown Truckee and the Donner Pass Road corridor, according to the Truckee Donner Utility District.

Liberty utilities reported that there were over 2,280 customers still in the dark on Sunday evening, primarily along Hwy 89 north of Lake Tahoe and just south of Truckee.

Internet connection went off intermittently over the weekend at Polivy’s Tahoe Mountain Sports store, with staff members wearing headlamps and using frozen fingers to operate phones and write up sales transactions and equipment rental, he said. Polivy closed its doors early Sunday to ensure staff can return home. The blackout also forced Drink Coffee Do Stuff to close, barista Ally Dinges said, adding that residents “certainly haven’t seen a storm like this in the past two years.”

Even the Bay Area has received a dose of high snowfall, with perhaps more to come, forecasters said. On Mount Hamilton in Santa Clara County, the Lick Observatory reported it “had a white Christmas” and warned on Facebook that the roads nearby were “dangerously slippery with snow and snow. ice”. Some other peaks in North Bay and the Central Coast also had snow over the statutory weekend, the National Weather Service said.

The days ahead could usher in more snow on the Bay Area peaks – even 4 inches or more at the higher elevations – to accompany the forecast of more rain to follow the cold and humid Christmas weekend, Meteorologist Jeff Lorber of the Weather Service said. From early Saturday morning to late Sunday afternoon, San Francisco and Oakland received about three-quarters of an inch of rain, with more on the way before an expected end of regular rains by Monday afternoon – before another weaker rain system arriving Tuesday night, the weather service said.

The Tahoe Basin area recorded 2-3 feet of snow in 24 hours through Sunday morning. McGuire said the five-day totals included over 66 inches at Diamond Peak Ski Resort to 82 inches at Northstar California Resort. A winter storm warning was in place for the Lake Tahoe Basin until 1 a.m. Tuesday.

Researchers were preparing Sunday to break a half-century record for December snowfall at UC Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Lab near the Donner Summit off Interstate 80. In the late morning of On Sunday, 29 inches of snow had fallen in 24 hours, making December’s total so far from an inch from 13 feet and just 2 feet from the 1970 record, the lab tweeted. With weather models showing the lab would get 1 to 3 feet by the end of Monday “We will have a solid chance of breaking the record in the next 48 hours,” said lab station director Andrew Schwartz, Sunday afternoon.

Major roads remained closed on Sunday, including I-80 from Colfax (Placer County) to the Nevada state border, and Highway 50 east from Placerville to Meyers (El Dorado County) ).

Caltrans cautioned against whiteout conditions and dangerous winds, greeting Twitter followers on Sunday with an ominous message: “Are you headed for the Sierra?” Please rethink your plans. … Mountain trips today (Sunday) will be difficult, if not impossible, and VERY DISCOURAGED. “There was no information on the planned reopening of the highways.

Ski resorts were largely closed on Sunday due to high winds, staff unable to reach the resorts and power outages. Dennis Baggett, spokesperson for Vail Resorts, which owns Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar stations, said stations were now above average for December snowfall. The paradisiacal seaside resort carried out ski lifts on Sunday on the Californian side. Stations forecast more than a foot of snow until Monday evening, Baggett said.

All lifts were closed Sunday at Palisades Tahoe.

Electricity was cut off at Boreal Mountain, which was also closed on Sunday and hopes to reopen on Monday, its website said.

Baggett described several days of “extreme winter storm conditions” with high winds and heavy snow. “There were gusts at the top of the ridges above 100 mph and occasional whiteout conditions. Our teams across the resorts are working around the clock to maintain the mountain, and we will not open if it is not completely safe for customers and employees, ”he said in a statement. E-mail.

It was difficult to find accommodation in the area as desperate travelers called for shelter.

The River Ranch was full until New Years, but calls for a room in the storm continued to arrive on the third consecutive day of snowfall, Oskolkoff-Campbell said.

In Truckee, a Hampton Inn manager said Sunday, “It’s crazy right now. We are exhausted. I think all the hotels in Truckee are fully booked. In addition to regular phone calls, travelers would come in trying to book rooms.

“It’s a disaster,” he said.

At the Tamarack Lodge Motel in Tahoe City – also booked full Saturday and Sunday evenings – manager Gerard Fenech feared high demand would leave many stranded tourists sleeping in their cars.

“The phone rang so many times that I couldn’t answer so many calls,” he said.

Calls to many restaurants, cafes and other businesses in the Truckee area went unanswered or were unsuccessful on Sunday. An employee who picked up Morgan’s Lobster Shack & Fish Market said it was “pretty crazy now” with only two people working. He then hung up.

San Francisco Chronicle editor-in-chief JD Morris contributed to this report.

Kellie Hwang and Sam Whiting are the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected], [email protected] Twitter: @KellieHwang, @SamWhitingSF