Snow plows work to clear roads following biggest storm since 1970

Miranda Jacobson

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. – The streets and highways of the Lake Tahoe Basin have been bested by the biggest storm of the year. Residents and tourists alike are wondering when their streets will be plowed, and officials around the basin are doing their best to clear the roads in a timely manner.

Lake Tahoe saw blankets of snow over Christmas that carried heavily into the week, with a record breaking total of 193.7 inches of snow falling as of Monday, Dec. 27.

The amount of snow has caused a series of traffic incidents and road closures unheard of in the basin, including the closures of Hwys 80, 50, 267 and SR 28 for over three days, putting snow plowers into overdrive.

Nevada Department of Transportation PIO Meg Ragonese explained that different agencies are in charge of different portions of the roads, which can lead to confusion amongst people who live in the area.

“Depending on the workload and the priority level of the routes that we do, we will work together,” said Ragonese. “But the counties are responsible for county roads, our city partners are responsible for city roads, and we at NDOT maintain and remove snow from the highways.”

Southwood Blvd. (pictured above) is a main road that is heavily used by residents in Incline Village. Many have taken to plowing the roads themselves after many cars go stuck on the sides of the roads.
Miranda Jacobson Tahoe Daily Tribune

The same goes for the California Department of Transportation on the California side of the basin, which means multiple entities are clearing the roads at once, with limited employees.

Ragonese explained that currently, NDOT is experiencing staffing shortages which has left them 50% underemployed this year. Currently, all plow drivers in the basin on both the Nevada and California sides are working 12 hour shifts daily, and many have not had breaks since before the storm, and will not see another break for the coming weeks.

“We’re dedicated to keeping the highway safe for drivers with our existing workforce, and we do that by first prioritizing snow removal on our major thoroughfares, such as interstates and the highways.”

The storm that recently hit the basin, labeled on social media sites as #DEEPcember, not only left some areas with almost 16 feet of snow, but additionally left debris and other obstacles in the road that has slowed down plow drivers.

“Any other incidents they might run across include a disabled vehicle,” said Ragonese. “They need to help with that kind of thing. I would say that one of the biggest challenges we see on the roads is unsafe driving primarily caused by motorists who are just driving too quickly or not following the posted chain controls.

“What happens is the resulting disabled vehicles or crashes temporarily take out our snow mobiles or make them unavailable for snow removal as we try to assist those stranded motorists.”

Caltrans PIO Steve Nelson explained that even though their teams are working 24/7 to reopen their portions of the highways as well, it’s difficult with obstacles in the road and the holiday rush of people attempting to leave and enter the basin.

“It was the imperfect storm during a holiday weekend,” said Nelson. “It’s a little bit different with the dynamic of this storm, with the winds and some of the trees down and power lines. So there’s other agencies that have to get involved… it’s very challenging right now.”

With the impacts on the plowers so intense many had to pull off the roads due to lack of visibility during the peaks of the storm, officials are predicting it will take over a week to get many of the roads back to the normal amount of lanes they’re supposed to be.

In Incline Village, residents can keep track of Washoe County roads through the virtual plow tracking system on the county’s website.

Washoe County Media and Communications Manager Bethany Drysdale explained that within Incline Village, there are different priority levels for Washoe roads, and residents can track where the plows are headed next.

“The priority one routes are the main thoroughfares,” said Drysdale, “secondary routes are bus routes, routes to school, the heavily used commuter routes. The third priority is the residential streets and cut-da-scas.”

Washoe County Operations Division Director in the Community Services Department Eric Crump said that typically, the plowers will hit priority one areas and some priority two, and once the storm stops, they’re able to go back to priority two and three areas.

The priority system can be difficult for those who live in areas that might not be plowed by Washoe County until a storm is over.

On Southwood Blvd., some residents have taken to plowing the roads and sidewalks themselves, which has been discouraged by Crump.

“We do not encourage citizens or businesses plow the roads,” said Crump. “Often times, this will lead to more work and slower service for our crews.”

While many residents would like to speed up the process or continue to travel, Crump recommends that those in the basin try not to drive at the moment unless they absolutely need to.

“Stay off the road unless you have to go out,” said Crump. “People like to drive around in cars, quads, side by sides, snowmobiles… to check things out. This all causes traffic which leads to accidents, stuck cars, resulting in slower service.”

As highways begin to open up again and people attempt to leave the basin, Drysdale and other officials are reminding drivers to follow the posted chain controls and use caution. 
”There are going to be berms,” said Drysdale. Snow berms are the linear accumulation of snow cast aside by a plow. “There’s going to be pile up of snow. There’s just no way to not have that. But they’re doing the best they can and they’ll keep trying to make things as accessible as possible. But it’s going to be difficult with this much snow.”

Check out the list below for more information about snow plowing in your area.

Nevada Department of Transportation Mapping System:

Washoe Mapping System:

California Department of Transportation Mapping System:

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