Snow removal personnel gearing up for series of storms

Caltrans plowing U.S. Highway 50 during winter storm.
Ashleigh Goodwin Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — A team of 31 handle snow removal, on a 24-hour schedule, for the city of South Lake Tahoe’s. Eight plow drivers work in 12-hour shifts, with a zone each and do their best to keep up with the heavy snowfall. 

Cal Trans District Public Records Request Coordinator Steve Nelson told the Tribune it has 45 people on staff, including kitchen and mechanics, five blowers, five graders, 11 plow trucks, three front end loaders, eight pick-up trucks, and a snow cat at their disposal to remove snow within their jurisdiction which includes the main stretch through the city along U.S. Highway 50.

Chief of South Lake Tahoe Police, David Stevenson, said it’s not just the plows that are needed during a storm.

“Mechanics were staging in the shop over New Year’s Eve, there were four staying in their cars to make sure they were available for any support when needed,” Stevenson said. 

In addition to mechanics, City Manager Joe Irvin said there’s also a snow blower running, a sander, and a supervisor to help coordinate the eight plow drivers and their varying zones.

Snowplow zone map.
Provided/City of South Lake Tahoe

Stevenson said the plows move strategically through the arterial streets and then maneuver through side streets as systematically as possible. There are, however, obstructions that frequently detour plow drivers. Officials say, the plow drivers then have to try to work their way back to the streets after obstructions are removed. 

According to Sgt. Scott Crivelli, the officers on duty between Dec. 30 and Jan. 1 responded to 29 disabled vehicle calls, four hit and runs, 11 car collisions, and six other calls due to miscellaneous snow issues.

Friday offered a bit of a reprieve and time to move as much of the snow as possible to make way for what National Weather Service meteorologist Brittany Whitlam called a “storm train.”

The ‘engine’ of the storm will roll through this weekend. Whitlam said the first wave will be smaller in comparison to New Year Eve’s storm. 

Moderate to heavy snowfall is estimated at nearly two feet on the Sierra crest Monday. Tuesday, Whitlam said, there is higher confidence that up to a foot of heavy snow will accumulate in the Tahoe Basin and the Sierra crest can expect up to 5 feet. 

The heavy snow, known as Sierra cement, has a huge role in causing power outages which aren’t easy to repair, according to Vice President of Electric Delivery and Natural Disaster Protection at NV Energy Jesse Murray.

While the accumulation of snow is expected in mountain areas Murray said, “according to the meteorological data the precipitation rates seen in the basin and western Nevada were record breaking for the modern era and top five for all time for precipitation totals, when it gets so moisture laden like that it’s heavier and sticks to more things.

“Snow at the base of the pole will not impact the power delivery. Snow that would be on top of the pole, on the cross arm, line, or conductor which weighs it down and it breaks, which causes a short, which in turn causes the outage,” Murray added. 

NV Energy, Liberty Utilities, El Dorado County, South Lake Tahoe Public Utility District and other agencies have sent out public service announcements to prepare for heavy winter weather and everyone out of the basin to beware in the event planning to visit.

STPUD said, “During the big rain on snow event over New Year, the South Tahoe Public Utility District wastewater treatment plant was inundated, due to excessive stormwater entering our wastewater collection system. Please conserve water during power outages, do not open manholes during flooding events, and run sump pumps to storm drains, not the sewer system.”

Flooding, avalanches and treacherous travel are expected as the Climate Prediction Center’s 6-10 day outlook shows storm systems leaning above normal precipitation with an atmospheric river bringing in a storm train through the mid to near end of January. 

Travel throughout the Sierra has been slowed by snowfall that slowly chokes a two lane highway down to one as Caltrans and the city of South Lake Tahoe’s remove snow as quickly and safely as possible. 

El Dorado County Community Transportation Division Tahoe Basin/Echo Summit Snowplow zone map.
Provided/El Dorado County

The city of South Lake Tahoe’s facebook page has been updating the community via posts regarding snow removal, real time. In response to a community member the city said that due to people using GPS tracking information to harass plow drivers that is no longer available to the public. 

Annush Nejad, the city’s Director of Public Works, said “The GPS devices used years ago were not accurate enough and that was one of the reasons, from a technical perspective, that the GPS was removed. I have also heard that some of our drivers were being harassed but the primary reason was the service.” 

Nejad said a new GPS system has been ordered to put on the plows to gain better understanding of how effective the plows are.

The flood mapping for the city of South Lake Tahoe will be available on the city’s website.

To report an issue with snow removal and information on winter preparedness, visit

Ski Run Boulevard plow results for Jan. 6.
Provided/Anush Nejad/Director of Public Works City of South Lake Tahoe

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.