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Tahoe chilled by blustery winds

Patrick McCartney

It wasn’t the cold Wednesday, it was the windchill factor.

Cool, blustery winds raked Lake Tahoe, causing intermittent power outages and forcing Heavenly Ski Resort to close for the day.

Whitecaps stippled the surface of Lake Tahoe, and trees toppled like dominoes around the basin. After two months of mild weather, the blustery weather was a reminder that winter can linger in the mountains long into the spring.

A strong jet stream was the culprit, according to Dave Pike, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Reno.

“A strong, upper-level jet tracked across the top of us,” said Pike. “The weather balloon we launched this morning recorded 120 mph wind at the 20,000-foot level before the winds tore it apart.”

Remote sensors recorded gusts of up to 102 mph over the Sierra Crest at noon, while the peak gust at the Lake Tahoe Airport was 35 mph. Winds at the airport averaged between 25 and 30 mph.

The temperature dropped to 22 Wednesday morning at the airport before climbing to an afternoon high of 42. But with a 30 mph wind, the afternoon high would have felt more like 10 degrees, Pike said.

At Heavenly Ski Resort, Adam Martin of San Rafael said he didn’t mind the chilly breeze while he was sledding with friends.

“The weather was great for sledding,” Martin said. “It wasn’t that cold, it was just windy.”

But Lisa Hori of Upper Kingsbury said the breeze forced her to retreat to the car.

“We sat in the car and watched them sledding,” she said.

High winds prompted officials at Heavenly Ski Resort to close the mountain before the scheduled opening, said Jan Vandermade, the resort’s director of marketing. The closure was the first this season from wind conditions.

“We started out with the intention of opening some runs in more protected areas,” Vandermade said. “But as the winds escalated in the early morning, we made the decision to close to protect the safety of our customers.”

Falling trees and branches were blamed for power outages that affected thousands of customers near Stateline and Meyers. By early evening, power was restored to all but 150 customers off South Upper Truckee, said Sierra Pacific spokesman Rick Madrid.

Repair crews believe the wind pressed a tree against a power line in the Zephyr Cove area around noon, tripping a circuit breaker and shutting off power to 1,600 customers from Round Hill to Zephyr Cove, Madrid said. No damage to company equipment was found, and the power was restored after the line was inspected.

Downed trees or branches were also blamed for two outages in the Meyers area that affected as many as 2,600 customers, Madrid said. A circuit breaker that was tripped in the morning automatically reset itself after a 12-second outage.

The same line shut off again in the afternoon, but this time repair crews had to inspect the line section by section before restoring power.

The blustery weather was accompanied by just a trace of snow overnight. Winds should decrease today, with gusts expected to be only half as strong as Wednesday, said meteorologist Pike.


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