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Thousands without power in California, Nevada amid heavy snowfall

The Central Sierra Snow Laboratory, a research station located atop Donner Summit, reported that 20.7 inches of snow had fallen as of Saturday morning, and that 39.8 inches had fallen over the past 48 hours.
Last Updated 03 March 2024, 03:28 IST

Thousands of residents were without power, and life came to a standstill for many in the Sierra Nevada region Saturday after a winter storm dumped as much as 2 feet of snow overnight and created treacherous conditions.

About 49,000 customers in Nevada and California were without electricity Saturday, according to PowerOutage.us. With whiteout conditions in the mountains, ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area paused operations. And highway officials shut down Interstate 80, the main artery that traverses the Sierra Nevada over Donner Summit, a key trucking route from the San Francisco Bay Area. Traffic cameras revealed semi trucks parked alongside the highway, waiting out the closure.

​​California Highway Patrol said there was no estimated time of reopening the freeway.

The Central Sierra Snow Laboratory, a research station located atop Donner Summit, reported that 20.7 inches of snow had fallen as of Saturday morning, and that 39.8 inches had fallen over the past 48 hours. Palisades Tahoe, a resort that closed ski area operations Saturday across all terrain, reported 24 inches of new snow in the past 24 hours.

Yosemite National Park remained closed at least through noon Sunday, park officials said.

Ed Miller, a resident of Tahoma on Lake Tahoe’s west shore, said he lost power around 10 p.m. Friday, before his generator kicked in a few minutes later. Miller, who has lived in the Lake Tahoe area for almost 50 years, is accustomed to power outages. He said having a generator is essential for living in the mountains, where wind gusts knock branches off trees and take down power lines on a regular basis.

In the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the huge mountain range that runs along the spine of California, forecasters rated the avalanche danger as high, and they expected avalanche hazards to worsen throughout the day because of the new snow and continued winds. Overnight Friday, winds reached as high as 171 mph.

Several avalanches were reported in the backcountry Friday, according to public observations on the Sierra Avalanche Center website, including at least one partial burial — a skier was caught when snow buried him up to his shoulders, but he was dug out about 10 minutes later. There were no injuries or fatalities reported.

In the morning in South Lake Tahoe, California, before snow plows could reach residential streets, some local residents had to fend for themselves to dig out amid the steady snowfall.

Autumn Worden, 28, plowed her four-wheel drive Subaru through deep trenches of snow. “I was rocking and rolling getting out of my neighborhood,” said Worden, a barista at a coffee roastery in Stateline, Nevada, just east of South Lake Tahoe.

“I made it to work though,” she said, adding that there was about a foot of snow on the roads when she headed out.

Bryan Allegretto, a Tahoe-area forecaster with OpenSnow, called it a “strong storm.” “We usually see a storm of this magnitude once or twice a year.”

Allegretto, who had been up since 4:30 a.m. Saturday collecting data, said he believed that snow totals were showing less than some of the national forecasts predicted because wind can greatly reduce the snowfall.

For Sunday, forecasters with the National Weather Service said heavy snowfall was likely in the morning, with overall accumulation for the day from 3 to 9 inches. Wind gusts could reach 50 mph.

The storm disrupted plans for several events. A 26-kilometer cross-country ski race was canceled. Organizers of the North Lake Tahoe Snowfest canceled the event’s parade for the first time in its 42-year history. And the polar bear plunge in Lake Tahoe, a Snowfest tradition, was postponed a week.

Some residents, however, were determined not to let the snow disrupt their plans.

Brendan Madigan, owner of Alpenglow Sports, an outdoor gear shop in Tahoe City, will not be closing his store. “We take a lot of pride in being open,” he said. “We feel like we’ve got hardy customers — it’s the mountains — and we have a responsibility to be here if people need us.”

Madigan said many recent customers in the store have been making storm-specific purchases. Because the ski area is closed, he said, “most people are doing retail therapy.”

And though the Snowfest parade was canceled, the parade’s after-party, called Blizzardfest, has been moved to Sunday afternoon and will take place outdoors at a local brewpub. On Saturday afternoon, it was still snowing heavily in Tahoe City. But Katie Biggers, executive director of the Tahoe City Downtown Association, still expects a good turnout.

“Tahoe locals always show up,” she said. “They’re all pretty rugged.”

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(Published 03 March 2024, 03:28 IST)

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