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Potent storm rakes Sierra, northern Nevada

Staff and wire reports

RENO(AP) — Another powerful storm swept through the Sierra on Thursday, stalling traffic and closing schools one day before the start of winter.

U.S. Highway 50 was closed over Echo Summit west of Meyers shortly after daybreak, then was reopened with chains or snow tires required. Chains were mandatory on Interstate-80 over Donner Summit. Kids in the Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District started their Christmas break early.

A winter storm warning extended along the California-Nevada state line from north of Susanville, Calif., down the Sierra well past Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

“We’re looking at around a foot, maybe up to 16 inches along the Sierra Crest,” National Weather Service forecaster Tom Cylke said in Reno.

Half that amount had fallen by daybreak.

Snow also was falling in western Nevada, slowing the morning commute from Reno south through Gardnerville. Chains or snow tires were required on U.S. 395 from Gardnerville to the California line.

The pre-Christmas storm was adding to what’s already a memorable year in the Sierra, where Alpine Meadows has a base of more than 9 1/2 feet of snow at mid-mountain. Sierra-at-Tahoe reports accumulating about 12 feet at the summit of Grand View Express.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Sierra’s Ski Patrol Supervisor Bob Schultz said. The ski resort will open its half pipe for snowboarders Saturday. Its backcountry gates are due to open on the last week of December.

In Alpine County, Kirkwood also boasts nearly 13 feet.

“We have great coverage over the entire mountain. No obstacles. The snow quality is really good — fluffy, light, incredible skiing,” Tania Pilkinton, Kirkwood’s director of media relations said. “I’ve been here since 1981 and I can’t remember a year when it was so good over the Christmas holidays.”

After two dry years, this fall has seen the snowpack grow to more than half its seasonal average.

The U.S. Forest Service said a considerable avalanche hazard exists along the Sierra from Yuba Pass to Sonora Pass, 100 miles to the south. The greatest danger is above 6,000 feet in back country away from developed recreational areas.

Meteorologists said the chance of snow showers would continue into Saturday, with snowfall totals from the two fronts amounting to about 14 inches at 7,000 feet. The storm will be followed by a return of fair-weather high pressure on Sunday. Highs in the 40s will pretty much doom the possibility of a white Christmas in the valleys.


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