Biggest storms of season bring heavy snow, traffic delays to Lake Tahoe |

Biggest storms of season bring heavy snow, traffic delays to Lake Tahoe

MARTIN GRIFFITH, Associated Press Writer

RENO, Nev. – Another powerful storm brought a second straight day of heavy snowfall Sunday to the Lake Tahoe area, causing major headaches for trans-Sierra motorists.

The California Highway Patrol said both lanes of Interstate 80 over Donner Summit were closed off and on Sunday because of accidents and the snow.

To the south, avalanche control activities prompted a two-hour closure of U.S. Highway 50 over Echo Summit and the closure of Highway 88 over Carson Spur for most of the day.

The storm also caused massive traffic jams on both I-80 and U.S. 50, as well as delays of up to five hours for motorists. Chains were mandatory on both highways, and controls were in effect on other Sierra highways.

On Tahoe’s south shore, westbound traffic on U.S. 50 was backed up Sunday evening for about eight miles from Meyers, Calif., to South Lake Tahoe, Calif., said Mark Witters of Meyers Shell.

”The problem is everybody checks out of the motel at 11 (a.m.) so there’s the 11 o’clock rush (of westbound motorists),” he said. ”There’s too many cars for a two-lane highway. It’s going to be a long night for a lot of people.”

”It’s very heavy traffic with gridlock everywhere on I-80,” a CHP dispatcher in Truckee, Calif., said Sunday evening.

Caltrans spokeswoman Wendy Bell said the eastbound lanes of I-80 were closed at Colfax, Calif., for about three hours Sunday afternoon because of accidents. Westbound I-80 motorists faced similar closures.

To avoid adding to the congestion on I-80, big truck rigs were barred from going over Donner Summit on Sunday evening, Bell said.

The accidents were minor and no major injuries were reported.

The storm is the latest in a series of systems expected to give the region a chance of snow through Wednesday.

Since the first storm hit the region on Thursday, Alpine Meadows ski resort reported up to 6 feet of new snow, Boreal 5 feet, Squaw Valley USA 4 feet and Kirkwood 4 feet.

Resort operators said the heavy snow improved conditions just in time for the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend, traditionally one of the busiest times of the ski season.

Resorts were plagued by a well-below-normal snowpack before the latest storms.

”It just won’t stop. It’s been snowing heavily all day,” Squaw Valley spokeswoman Katja Dahl said late Sunday afternoon. ”We had to close our upper mountain today because (the avalanche control experts) couldn’t keep up with all the snow.”

”It just goes to show you that anything can happen in terms of weather in the Sierra,” added Alpine Meadows spokeswoman Robert Olmer. ”Last weekend people were skiing and boarding in T-shirts. This weekend people are up to their necks in powder.”

Water officials also welcomed the snow. As of Sunday morning, the storms had pushed the water content of the Tahoe Basin snowpack to 56 percent of average for the season.

To the south, the figure stood at 58 percent of average in the Carson River watershed and 51 percent in the Walker River basin.

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