Storm pummels basin |

Storm pummels basin

Susan Wood

At last.

Mother Nature handed Lake Tahoe skiers and hydrologists the first major snowfall since December, setting the stage for a busy upcoming President’s Day holiday weekend for the ski resorts but a mess for motorists trying to negotiate closed or slow-moving trans-Sierra highways.

Many ski areas reported 2- to 3-feet of new snow during the three-day storm, with Alpine Meadows boasting 60 inches total on the North Shore and Heavenly receiving 30 inches in South Lake Tahoe.

“Everybody’s having a great time,” Molly Cuffe of Heavenly said of the powder conditions. “This is definitely the first storm in a long time that is making the conditions much better.”

Groomers worked through the night.

“They’re certainly doing their best to keep up with the new snow,” Cuffe said.

This latest winter windfall boosted the Tahoe snowpack by 10 percent to 20 percent, which had been 40 percent to 50 percent of normal before the snowfall.

“It’s still going to be below normal,” National Weather Service meteorologist Danny Mercer said.

Regardless, the weather bureau reported at least three feet in the elevations above 7,200 feet, where 50 mph wind gusts also swept mountain ridges.

At lake level, the bureau said 20 inches fell over the weekend, with Incline Village picking up seven inches in a six-hour period Friday night.

U.S. Highway 50 over Echo Summit and Highway 88 over Carson Pass were closed for a few hours Saturday and again on Sunday. Interstate 80 was closed over Donner Summit for nearly an hour due to low visibility on Saturday.

The next day, traffic on I-80 crawled in the westbound lanes, until California Highway Patrol officers held and escorted motorists from Truckee to Yuba Gap down Donner Pass to avoid accidents.

Aside from a few spinouts and slides into snowbanks all over the Lake Tahoe Basin, no major, weather-related accidents were reported as of Sunday evening, according to both California and Nevada highway patrols.

“We’re doing whatever we can to slow people down,” CHP Public Information Officer Todd Kettwig said.

A winter storm warning remained in effect through the weekend for much of the northern Sierra Nevada. Chains or snow tires were required on most Tahoe highways, including Highway 50, I-80 and state highways 28, 207 over the Kingsbury Grade and 89 from Tahoma to D.L Bliss State Park.

Highway 89 was closed from the state park to five miles north of Highway 50. Highway 50 remained shut down through Sunday night between Meyers and Twin Bridges due to slippery conditions.

In Alpine County, Highway 88 over the Carson Spur west of Kirkwood and Monitor Pass along Highway 89 southeast of Markleeville to U.S. Highway 395 were closed. The major, north-to-south Nevada thoroughfare was open to traffic.

And it’s not over yet.

The weather service calls for snowshowers today, with the highs remaining in the mid to upper 20s and the lows in the teens. The lower temperatures represent quite a departure from the balmy, 68 degrees blanketing the region a week ago.

The storm moves eastward Tuesday, with a chance of snow forecast through Wednesday. The week should dry out by Thursday.

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