Winter storm wallops ski resorts, Tahoe Basin |

Winter storm wallops ski resorts, Tahoe Basin

by Timothy Bowman

Tahoe roads were blanketed white Thursday.

Few accidents were reported as of 3 p.m., but motorists were considerably slowed by whiteout conditions.

“(Chain controls) went up at 9 a.m. on Echo Summit and then around 9:20 a.m. around Emerald Bay and about 9:15 a.m. on Luther (Pass),” said Caltrans worker Shelly Piscitelli.

Motorists going out of the basin were stopped to put on chains just west of the Meyers inspection station. While it extends their travel time, most recognized the necessity.

“Last time we were up we had to put on chains,” said Cameran Linghil of San Jose, Calif. “I didn’t think we needed them, but this time it looks necessary. We don’t mind. You always have to expect this when you come up here.”

Some opted to cancel travel plans.

Felix Jenkins, a South Shore resident, was planning to leave Thursday for a weekend of surfing in Santa Barbara but was deterred by the heavy snowfall.

“Right now, I’m kind of hesitant (to travel),” Jenkins said. “We’ll see. I might just stay up here and ride. The beach is always there but the snow is a temporary thing.”

The snow started falling by 8:30 a.m., and by noon 6 inches of accumulation was reported over Echo Pass. Up to a foot was expected by Friday, Feb. 23. The storm’s impact was felt quickly after the first flakes began to fall.

“This last storm came through and in the first four hours we gained about 4 inches at lake level and 8 inches above 7,000 feet,” said Terry Ryan, a National Weather Service forecaster.

Caltrans was out at the beginning of the storm working to keep the roads safe. Keeping clear the passes when visibility is poor can be a hazardous task, according to Caltrans driver Larry Chavez.

“The main thing on a day like today is people stopping in the middle of the road to put on chains.” Chavez said. “That is the biggest problem. It drives you crazy. They are mostly tourists, or at least we would hope they are. There are plenty of places to pull over and get out of the roadway.”

Chavez, who has been removing snow in the Sierra for 20 years, says that experience is key to a Caltrans worker’s safety.

“Most of our new guys we’ll send them downtown for a while before we put them up here,” Chavez said. “Echo is probably one of the tougher ones because of the traffic. It is the gateway to Tahoe.”

Caltrans crews operate with three trucks in a line and staggered to clear the most possible road space. The trucks travel at close to 25 miles per hour, which is often too slow for impatient motorists.

“People are always passing us on the corners,” Chavez said. “When they see a truck they should be happy because we are keeping the roads clear.”

Motorists and Caltrans workers should get a break from the winter weather Friday, but the basin is expected to receive significant snowfall Saturday with scattered showers through Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

“The Tahoe Basin in the next 24 hours will be having decreasing snow showers,” Ryan said. “It will be clearing off to mostly cloudy with scattered snow showers by Friday morning. Then on Saturday we will have heavy snow. Sunday will have a chance of snow with temperatures in the high to mid-30s and warming up for Monday.”

– Gary Kank contributed to this story

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