Chief’s Corner – Preparing for Safe Winter Travel in the Sierra |

Chief’s Corner – Preparing for Safe Winter Travel in the Sierra

Steve Leighton
Chief's Corner

TAHOE CITY, Calif. – The Sierra snowpack grew from 15% to over 157% in the last three weeks of December, making for the “snowiest” December on record. Storms that are forecast in feet of snow rather than inches are not uncommon, but these storms remind us of the importance of emergency preparedness for all seasons, including keeping your vehicle – and travel schedule – prepared for winter impacts.

Steve Leighton

The best way to keep your family safe is to plan ahead and be prepared before a weather event arrives. Be ready for extended road closures that may remain after the precipitation stops. Authorities may be responding to storm impacts beyond snow removal, such as accidents, stranded motorists, down trees and powerlines, and other damage that may delay the ability to safely open roads after the weather has passed. Wind may impact visibility that could further extend road closures.

Storms in our region can impact all primary roads at once, leaving travelers with no option but to wait out the storm and its cleanup. Traffic alerts that direct drivers to take an alternate route refer to other safe/maintained routes, and never refer drivers to back roads. Don’t blindly follow the advice of GPS or a map app; make sure you are being directed to a safe, maintained road, and notify friends or relatives of the route you are taking and the time you expect to arrive at your destination.

Follow the National Weather Service for weather updates, and visit CalTrans Quick Maps and Nevada511 for road conditions. Consider the following recommendations to prepare for safe winter travel in the Sierra:

• Pack an emergency kit for your car with a cell phone charger, jumper cables, a flashlight, warm clothes/boots/blankets, a shovel, snow traction devices, emergency reflectors, food, and water.

• Start your trip with a full tank of fuel and fill your windshield wiper reservoir with a high-quality winter fluid with de-icer.

• Before driving, completely clear your vehicle of snow, including the rooftop.

• California Law requires if your windshield wipers are on, headlights must also be on to make your

vehicle visible to other drivers. Daytime running lights don’t illuminate taillights, but low beams do.

• Increase your following distance and reduce your speed when driving in winter weather, and never

crowd a snowplow or maintain travel next to it. Use caution if you must pass it.

• If stopped or stalled in winter weather, protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning. Ensure your

exhaust pipe is cleared of snow, and don’t run your car for long periods with the windows up or in an enclosed space; run the car just long enough to stay warm.

• Carry an emergency kit with supplies for each member of your family and pets, including cash, prescription medication, prescription lenses, water, pet food, etc.

• Know what local radio stations are used for emergency information along your route. We wish you safe winter adventures in 2022 and beyond.

Steve Leighton is the Fire Chief of the North Tahoe Fire and Meeks Bay Fire Protection Districts, serving the north and west shores of Lake Tahoe, and the communities in Alpine Meadows. Chief Leighton is a 29-year veteran of the fire service.


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