2:38 p.m.: Storm pounds Nevada, Sierra; I-80 closed off and on
Associated Press Writer
RENO, Nev. (AP) ” A monster winter storm pounded the Sierra and northern Nevada today, creating treacherous driving conditions in the mountains and prompting state officials to warn truckers hundreds of miles away to park where they are and stay put.
Flood warnings for small stream and low-lying areas from north of Reno to Gardnerville 50 miles south and along the central Sierra were posted through Friday afternoon, when temperatures were expected to plummet and heavy rain that began before dawn changed to snow. No major problems were reported.
A blizzard warning remained in effect for the Sierra and Lake Tahoe region along the Nevada-California line, where forecasters said heavy snow and hurricane-force winds reduced visibility to zero.
Interstate 80 over Donner Summit west of Reno was closed off and on throughout the day because of jackknifed trucks, spinouts and blinding snow.
Traffic on U.S. 50 over Echo Summit also was backed up because of wrecks, authorities said.
The town of Truckee, Calif., called in the American Red Cross to set up an emergency shelter for motorists stranded by the storm or anyone else in need of safe harbor.
The heaviest snowfall was expected late Friday and overnight, when snow could pile up at the rate of 6 inches an hour, the National Weather Service said. Up to 10 feet was expected above 7,000 feet.
“Attempting to travel in the Sierra will put your life at risk,” the weather service warned on its Web site.
Neil Erasmus, manager of Ice Lake Lodge and Rainbow Lodge near Donner Lake, said it was a struggle to keep up with the mounting snow.
“It’s a whiteout here,” he said. “We’re plowing and grooming, plowing and grooming to keep us from being buried in.”
The massive storm prompted authorities in Nevada to warn truckers heading toward the Sierra en route to the West Coast from as far away as Evanston, Wyo. ” 600 miles east of Reno ” to find a place to hunker down way before reaching the Nevada-California line.
“State officials have been working closely with trucking companies and truck stops to let them know, ‘Stay put,'” said Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Chuck Allen.
The concern, Allen said, was that hundreds of trucks with no where to go would clog the highway for miles and impede snow removal if, as expected, I-80 is shut down.
“If it starts dumping at the rate they’re talking, Caltrans won’t be able to keep up,” Allen said.
Around Lake Tahoe, at an elevation of 6,200 feet, snow began falling around noon.
Winter storm warnings were issued all across northern Nevada, from Reno to the Utah line. The heaviest snowfall was expected overnight into Saturday. The weather service said 4-10 inches of snow was expected in the Reno area, with up to 16 inches in foothill regions.
The Sierra Avalanche Center issued an extreme avalanche danger warning for the backcountry around Lake Tahoe due to the high hourly snowfall rates.
“They’re predicting at least 6 inches an hour, which is two to three times as fast as normal up here,” said Andy Anderson, avalanche forecaster. “The danger is as high as it can get.”
The University of Nevada, Reno canceled Saturday night’s scheduled basketball game against Utah State after the Aggies were unable to travel from Logan, Utah to Reno on Friday. School officials said they could not remember and had no record of another time a game had been canceled due to bad weather.
“The safety of the student athletes, coaches and staff on both teams as well as the safety of our Wolf Pack fans is our highest priority,” Nevada athletic director Cary Groth said. She said the game would be rescheduled but no date had been set.
The storm that stretched across the West Coast region also forced dozens of flight cancellations at Reno-Tahoe International Airport, but the airport itself remained open.
“Every airline has different specifications regarding what conditions they can fly in,” said airport spokesman Brian Kulpin.
Kulpin advised travelers to check with their airlines concerning flights before venturing to the airport.
On the Net:
National Weather Service-Reno: http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/rev/
Road Conditions: http://safetravelusa.com/nv/
Sierra Avalanche Center: http://www.sierraavalanchecenter.org/
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