Caltrans explains controlled avalanches |

Caltrans explains controlled avalanches

Miranda Jacobson

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – With over 200 inches of snow settled into the Lake Tahoe Basin and still more to come, the need for controlled avalanches has only increased, in order to decrease highway delays and protect motorists .

The California Department of Transportation is responsible for controlled avalanches on the South Lake side of the basin. At their Avalanche Control Centers, cannons are positioned at different points within the mountains so that they can be remotely set off from an office at another location.

“We have 13 cannons positioned on the mountain above Highway 50 over Echo Summit that blast a mixture of propane and oxygen to create a controlled avalanche,” said Caltrans District 3 PIO Steve Nelson.

“The cannons are set off remotely from our office in Meyers. Crews on the ground clear the snow from the highway after the blasts. The operation usually takes about an hour with traffic being held in both directions on 50.”

The process has been made safe through the use of the cannons, which allow the least amount of people as possible around when creating an avalanche.

Caltrans put out a video in 2019 that shows viewers what the cannon firing off looks like, along with the process of bringing the oxygen and propane to the sites through helicopter to refill the cannons.

Avalanche warnings in Incline Village and Crystal Bay were announced on Monday, Dec. 28 by the Washoe County Emergency Management team, raising concerns for community members that live in the area.

For more information about the avalanche dangers in Washoe County, visit

To see the entire Caltrans video on controlled avalanches, visit


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