The calm between the storms |

The calm between the storms

by Ryan Hoffman
It was mostly blue skies in South Lake Tahoe Thursday, following three days dominated by snowfall. The National Weather Service predicts similar conditions Friday before rain and snow return to the region Saturday.
Ryan Hoffman / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

The new year got off to a strong start as it relates to snow. A winter storm earlier in the week delivered multiple feet of snow, bolstering snowpack levels and pleasing ski resorts in the Sierra Range, while also posing problems on the roadways and elsewhere — issues that could become exacerbated as another storm rolls into the region this weekend.

“In terms of building a snowpack at all elevations, this is the sort of storm we always hope for,” said Jeff Anderson, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Reno.

In the Lake Tahoe Basin, snowpack went from 62 percent of normal on Jan. 1 to 129 percent on Thursday. While that “sounds very impressive and it was,” starting at 62 percent of normal is fairly low, Anderson cautioned.

While state and regional water officials were happy with the recent storm, ski resorts were equally excited.

Heavenly Mountain Resort recorded 30 inches of snow within 24 hours Thursday morning, bringing the overall seven-day total to 70 inches. Kirkwood Mountain Resort recorded 56 inches of new snow during the recent storm and Sierra-at-Tahoe measure 62 inches of new snow over seven days.

The storm was a welcome site for snow lovers throughout the region, but it did pose problems elsewhere.

“We have had a large call volume,” said Officer Mark Melhus with California Highway Patrol. “Anytime we have the snow-covered, slick roadways our call volume goes up.”

Since Jan. 1, CHP fielded 17 accident reports in unincorporated El Dorado County, according to Melhus. That number does not include accidents inside South Lake Tahoe and Placerville city limits, and it doesn’t included incidents where no actual report was requested.

Many people “who put their car in a snowbank” do not request an accident report, Melhus added.

Most of those incidents result from motorists not giving themselves enough distance between other cars, and motorists’ failure to realize they need more time to stop than in dry conditions.

“Pump [the brakes], don’t just stand on them,” Melhus suggested.

An avalanche warning was in effect throughout most of the previous storm. Within hours of lifting the warning Thursday morning an avalanche closed Mount Rose Highway – State Route 431 – north of Incline Village.

Two backcountry skiers caught in the avalanche escaped without injury and plow trucks were able to free several vehicles stuck in several feet of snow from the slide, the Associated Press reported.

Drifting snow caused visibility problems on mountain passes earlier in the week, and a combination of rain and snow on Wednesday led to flooding on some South Lake Tahoe roads.

With the National Weather Service issuing a flood advisory set to take effect Saturday night, officials are preparing for the worst and urging residents and visitors to do the same.

“Friday and Saturday crews will be out clearing snow and storm drains. Residents need to prepare for the storm,” a press release from the city cautioned.

According to the advisory, the storm is expected to bring 6-12 inches of rain in much of the Tahoe Basin starting Saturday night through Monday morning.

“We are preparing for a major flood,” said Lt. Brian Williams with the South Lake Tahoe Police Department.

The city suggested a series of tips that can be found at South Lake Tahoe has already contacted American Red Cross and prepared its emergency operations teams to be ready to open evacuation centers as needed, according to a press release.

Based on previous storms, the city anticipates flooding to occur in the following areas: lower Tahoe Keys; state streets; mobile home parks at Third Street and Jean Avenue and Woodbine; Winnemucca and U.S. 50; and Pioneer Trail and Blackbart at the meadow.