Snow weighs on Tahoe residents, businesses

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The weight of historic snow has been more than many buildings could shoulder this winter, including commercial and residential properties throughout the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Roofs and buildings have collapsed displacing residents and closing businesses. Gov. Gavin Newsom added El Dorado County to his office’s emergency declaration. The state of Nevada and the city of South Lake Tahoe have also declared emergencies due to severe weather.

The El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office has warned against price gouging for snow removal, and building officials have been inspecting critical infrastructure on the South Shore and have issued nine red tags deeming structures unsafe to occupy — all while the snow, and rain, continues to fall with much more on the way.

Meyers resident Li Terrell told the Tribune she got sticker shock after receiving a price quote to remove snow from her roof.

“The quotes for snow removal are phenomenally over the top, $5,200 for a one story 1,100-square-foot home, and I only needed half removed,” she said.

The District Attorney’s warning said, “Price gouging for snow removal and other goods and services is illegal and we will hold you accountable. Penal Code 396(b) says, in part, ‘for a period of 30 days following that proclamation or declaration, it is unlawful for a person, contractor, business, or other entity to sell or offer to sell any consumer food items, goods, or services …for a price of more than 10 percent greater than the price charged by that person for those goods or services immediately prior to the proclamation or declaration of emergency, or prior to a date set in the proclamation or declaration.'”

The building housing Raley’s in the Crescent V shopping center near heavenly Village fell victim to the snow load. The store remains closed as of Thursday.
Ashleigh Goodwin/Tahoe Daily Tribune

Just how much does one square foot of snow weigh is a question snow removal employees say is often an oversight when considering the cost of removal. The risk is another.

With the storm train leaving foot on foot of snow, system after system, soaking rains in March brought a downpour and created solid, heavy Sierra cement. 

One such employee told the Tribune, “We are now pushing blocks that can weigh anywhere between 100 and 250 pounds. And now with these ginormous blocks, we also have to worry about getting it/keeping it away from your windows or your sliding glass door on your porch, it’s not just simple snow removal anymore,” said local resident Raymond Weston McElwain who declined to give his employer’s name.

Individuals who remove snow say it’s better to have maintenance after each storm system rather than waiting to remove snow from several storms all at once because of its weight. 

Local business owner and longtime resident Kenny Curtzwiler, of K&K Services, said not all the snow has to be removed from roofs, just enough to remove excess weight that may stress the structure.

“We charge $425 an hour for six or seven guys,” Curtzwiler said.

Even those who have kept their roof maintained through the past few months are finding ice dams causing leaks which lead to a whole host of secondary issues.

To make matters more murky, some say the total damages won’t be revealed until the snow melts completely. 

Natalie Johnson, who has lived in Meyers for more than two decades is worried about being dropped by her insurance for escalating repair costs.

“We have had three ice dams, two of which leaked water all the way down to the first floor of the house,” Johnson said and added while she’s grateful insurance has been responsive she’s fearful the repairs will run into the thousands causing issues with maintaining her coverage.

Terrell has not had such a positive experience with her insurance company. 

“I filed a claim with my insurance March 1 and have yet to even speak to anyone about next steps,” Terrell said. “I have called multiple times, sent emails and … crickets.” 

Heavy snow load caused a partial collapse of seven unit structure on San Francisco Avenue and displaced residents.
Provided/South Lake Tire Fire Rescue

After a couple of sunny days, the active weather is returning to the basin.

A couple of fast-moving systems will bring a chance of snow showers this weekend with light accumulations possible over mountain passes, according to the National Weather Service in Reno.

The first from Friday into Saturday morning will bring light showers and possibly slick conditions to Sierra roads. The second wave will bring light-to-moderate snowfall Saturday night into Sunday, including a couple of inches at lake level and Truckee and 3 to 6 inches along the Sierra crest.

Travel impacts are likely with the most impactful period being Sunday morning where widespread light snowfall is likely, the service said.

Officials are eyeing a stronger storm Monday through Wednesday that could see yet another atmospheric river dump feet of snow at Tahoe.

The service said the AR looks to impact southern California more than the northern half but the southern track leads to a colder solution for the storm over our region.

“Overall, we expect strong gusty winds with lower snow levels starting around 5,000-6,000 feet, and then lowering to valley floors Tuesday night-Wednesday,” the service said. 

Confidence is still on the lower end with snowfall amounts, but the latest projections show 1-2-plus feet for lake communities, 3-5 feet along the Sierra crest and 1-4 inches down to the valley floors in western Nevada. 

“There is still quite a bit of variance within the models,” the service said. “Either way, expect travel disruptions and exacerbated snow load impacts in the Sierra Nevada.”

Beyond Wednesday, the storm door stays open into late March with above normal chances for precipitation and high chances for below normal temperatures.

The rain on snow event caused flooding issues and also structural issues on homes and businesses.
Hannah Pence/Tahoe Daily Tribune

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