Wicked winds wallop South Shore | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Wicked winds wallop South Shore

Jim Grant/Tahoe TribuneThe Jewel of the Sierra is greeted with a rainbow's colorful arch Thursday morning in this view from the Camp Richardson Marina.

Packed with 70 mph winds and gusts as high as 100 mph, a powerful Pacific storm blew into the Lake Tahoe Basin early Thursday and left a path of destruction.

Trees snapping into power lines ignited two small forest fires and caused more than 2,000 residences to be without power.

The weather system brought its fiercest winds into the basin beginning about 2 a.m., followed by brief periods of rain and snowfall.

The brief sunshine was eclipsed by rain Thursday afternoon, which should continue today. Two strong systems are forecast to work themselves together and form one massive storm, expected to bring a mixture of rain and snow Friday and Saturday, said Jim Fischer, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“We’re looking at the storm intensifying (Friday), with more wind and the snow level dropping later in the evening,” Fischer said.

The blast from Thursday’s storm was apparent throughout the basin. Downed tree limbs littered roadways from Zephyr Cove to Meyers, with at least four trees toppling onto homes and vehicles.

No injuries were reported, but damage from the storm is expected to be in the thousands of dollars, El Dorado County, South Lake Tahoe and Douglas County authorities said.

In South Lake Tahoe, four homes and at least two cars were damaged by falling trees, said South Lake Tahoe police Sgt. Alex Schumacher. “The first big storm of the year you can usually find out which trees weren’t stable.”

In Douglas County, tree crews cleared limbs in the upper and lower Kingsbury areas.

Some ice had Douglas County School District students on a main bus route schedule at the lake.

There were minor problems on the other side of the state line.

“It was a wild morning. The only thing the storm affected was our home school transportation because of the closure of Pioneer Trail,” said Steve Morales, director of facilities for Lake Tahoe Unified School District.

Morales got a phone call after 8 a.m. saying Pioneer Trail was open and since that time buses have returned to normal routes. There were some delays in the morning because the road was closed because of the fire.

Lake Tahoe Unified transports about 2,900 students each day. Of those, more than 200 were affected Thursday morning.

Morales went out to Sierra House Elementary School at 5:15 a.m. Thursday to ensure the electricity was on — and it was.

Listeners should be able to dial into KTHO-AM 590 this morning after it went off the air about 2:20 a.m. Thursday.

Engineer Bill Kingman said the power lines were jumping in the dust. There was a fire at the transmitter site that knocked KTHO off the air. Kingman said all the trees around the 300-foot tower were burned.

As high winds knocked down power lines that sparked the fires, 2,042 Sierra Pacific Power customers lost their electricity at 2:24 a.m. along Pioneer Trail, Al Tahoe and Cold Creek, said utility spokesman Gary Aldax.

But just when power was returned at 6:13 a.m., six small outages that affected more than 1,000 homes were reported around Fallen Leaf Lake, Emerald Bay and portions of Pioneer Trail and Black Bart Avenue, Aldax added.

Late Thursday, along Highway 50, scattered rain and snow showers were reported and snowplows were seen heading east toward the Tahoe Basin from Echo Summit. Temperatures Thursday morning and afternoon hovered in the upper 30s and low 40s.

Sierra Pacific Power has 44,799 customers on the California side and 5,639 customers on the Nevada side of South Shore in the basin.

“Because the problem has been widespread, we’ve brought in extra backup from Reno” to work on the power lines, Aldax said.

About 1,000 customers in the Markleeville and Woodfords area were also without power from about 3:15 to 7:40 a.m. after winds snapped trees on power lines there. Only sporadic outages were reported in Minden and Gardnerville, Aldax said.

— Jeff Munson can be reached at jmunson@tahoedailytribune.com

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