Sierra hit with heaviest storm of the seaon |

Sierra hit with heaviest storm of the seaon

Michael Schneider, Patrick McCartney

Arriving a little late, one of the season’s strongest storms plastered Lake Tahoe Sunday, dumping a foot of snow at lake level and forcing the closure of many mountain passes.

U.S. Highway 50 over Echo Summit, as well as sections of state highways 88 and 89, closed Sunday morning due to avalanche controls and snow-covered roadways. Eighteen inches of snow was reported to have fallen on Echo Summit.

Sgt. Mike Stewart of the California Highway Patrol said Highway 50 was closed for about two hours, opening at about noon Sunday, shortly after the snow stopped falling.

Stranded holiday travelers trying to return home were backed up as far as Elks Club Drive Sunday morning heading out of Tahoe, Stewart said.

No major accidents were reported, mainly because traffic was moving so slowly. Chains or snow tires were required on Sierra highways.

National Weather Service forecaster Dan Samelson of Reno said the storm hit the Sierra on Saturday night but the bulk of the snow fell early Sunday. It tapered off into isolated snow showers by early Sunday afternoon.

Kingvale, Calif., reported 26 inches of new snow – 14 inches over a three-hour period ending at 6 a.m.

Elsewhere in California, Donner Summit and Kirkwood each reported 2 feet of new snow, Tahoe City 10 inches, Truckee 7 inches and Mammoth Lakes 7 inches. The Reno-Carson City area had 1-2 inches.

”I believe it was the strongest system of the season so far” in the Donner Summit area, Samelson said. ”It was a good storm and it can’t help but improve the Sierra snowpack.”

Highway 88, which was closed over the Carson Spur, reopened at 1 p.m. Stewart said the closure was due to now on the roadway, not because of the possibility of an avalanche.

Highway 89 along the west shore of Lake Tahoe remained closed Sunday from five miles north of U.S. Highway 50 to Bliss State Park north of Emerald Bay.

Heavy snow prompted the U.S. Forest Service to issue an avalanche warning for the east side of the Sierra Nevada, from Yuba Pass to Sonora Pass.

The Forest Service described the avalanche danger in these areas as high as they hold mostly unstable snow. Avalanche danger is high where avalanches are likely on steep snow-covered open slopes and gullies.

In these areas, back country travel, such as cross country or downhill skiing is not recommended, according to Robert Moore, avalanche forecaster with the service.

Moore said another update regarding avalanche danger in these passes will be available today.

“Observers reported long-running new snow avalanches on existing surfaces,” said Moore, who said the warning applies outside developed ski areas only. “Large destructive avalanches are possible.”

Tom Cylke, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno, said the brunt of the storm had passed by Sunday afternoon and, although a warm front is expected in the region Tuesday, after that the area could see a drier pattern developing.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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