Snow-removal crews prep for more storms |

Snow-removal crews prep for more storms

Dylan Silver
Published Caption: Tribune File Photo

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – City and state snow-removal workers powered through increased traffic and an avalanche to keep the roads mostly open through the latest series of storms, and they’re bracing for another dump this week.

“Over the weekend, our biggest issue wasn’t the snow; it was the traffic,” said Caltrans spokesman Mark Dinger about last weekend’s traffic. “It was a real mess. I got a lot of angry phone calls that night.”

When Caltrans stopped traffic for an hour so it could perform avalanche control on Highway 50 on Sunday, cars backed up from Meyers to Stateline, Dinger said. They’d never seen it go back that far, he added.

Caltrans does avalanche control on Highway 50 depending on the snowfall and snow conditions. Typically, it takes the preventative measures if there’s 12 inches of snowfall or more, said South Lake Tahoe snow-removal supervisor Bill Netto.

“It’s been a way-more-active year than normal,” Netto said. “We’ve done a lot more avalanche control than usual. Of course, that’s because of all the snow we’ve gotten this year.”

Netto has been doing snow removal in South Lake Tahoe since 1982. The March 16 avalanche that buried Highway 50 in 20 feet of cement-like snow was one of the larger slides he’s seen, he said.

“I’m glad it happened when it happened,” Netto said.

Caltrans unleashed the slab after firing a blast from its air cannon on Echo Summit. It took four hours for the industrial-sized Kodiak snow blowers, which can clear 35,000 tons of snow an hour, to unblock the highway.

“We try to settle the snow so (avalanches) don’t come in too big,” Netto said. “We try to control them so we don’t end up with a large mass on the road.”

Sierra snowfall has been well above average this year. Sierra-At-Tahoe resort is reporting 30 percent more snowfall than their average yearly total of 480 inches. It’s not the worst winter Netto has seen though, he said. The winter of 1982/’83 was quite a workout for snow removal teams, he recalled.

“I remember downtown was only one-lane,” Netto said.

Caltrans is preparing for this week’s forecast of storms that the National Weather Service expects will drop another 1-2 feet of snow by Friday. Workers have to maintain plows and blowers and the accompanying chains that often need repairs. They have to make sure their snow retention facility is ready to go and finish host of other upkeep jobs, Dinger said

“There’s lots of work to do in between storms,” he said.

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