Storm blasts region
Truckee residents woke up Monday morning to howling winds, icy roads and power outages as a nasty but brief storm tossed trees onto power lines, houses, propane tanks, cars and roadways.
Sierra Meadows, Ponderosa Palisades and the West End of Donner Lake neighborhoods were hit the hardest, where forceful gusts knocked large trees onto houses, causing significant damage to at least three homes, officials said.
Throughout the day, as many as 5,000 residents were without power at one time, with some outages extending until early Tuesday morning, according to Bob Quinn, electric superintendent at the Truckee-Donner Public Utility District.
“When you get wind to that magnitude, things are going to happen,” Quinn said. “That’s what we have to deal with here in the mountains. But it’s been quite some time since I have seen winds this hard.”
On Silver Fir in Sierra Meadows, a large pine tree snapped and became tangled in several lines, blocking the roadway for hours.
Nina Mroczkowski, who lives next to where the tree broke, said the incident really shook up her family. Her children, Theresa, 16, and Ray, 18, were taking out the garbage on their way to school when they heard a loud snapping and crackling noise.
“I was bringing out the trash and when I looked over my shoulder, it looked like the tree was falling down on me,” Theresa Mroczkowski said. She immediately ran to take cover under the front porch. “It was really scary,” she said. “It knocked down all the wires.”
Nina Mroczkowski estimated the tree was 150 feet tall, but did not look rotten in the middle at all.
“It’s a gigantic tree,” she said. “We’ve always imagined that tree falling through the center of the house.”
Tom Lohmeier of Sierra Meadows lost a deck when a 60-foot pine fell and hit his house.
“I was lucky; I lost a deck, but it could have been worse,” he said. “It hit the house, but glanced off and just did a little roof damage, then took out the deck.”
A neighbor’s house and garage received major damage when another tree fell, Lohmeier said, and a third tree came down between houses.
“For the size of the trees, I’m surprised they didn’t do more damage,” he said, adding that it may have been because the wind storm was so brief – “one big gust and that was it.”
At Jill and Brent Thompson’s house on Pine Cone Drive in Ponderosa Palisades, a tree fell on their visiting friends’ Toyota Forerunner, crushing the roof, passenger side and entire back half of the vehicle. It continued on into an intersection, where it blocked three neighborhood roadways.
“At 9:15 (a.m.), I was lying upstairs and watching the wind and those gust were amazing,” said Jill Thompson. “Suddenly, I heard a big bang and ran downstairs. I feel so bad about our friends’ car. They’re just up from Monterey visiting us for a few days.”
At least no one was injured, she said, and another tree that fell behind their house hit nothing but snow.
Quinn said PUD staff were surprised to see so much damage in Sierra Meadows and Ponderosa Palisades.
“We normally don’t have that type of problem out in Sierra Meadows,” he said. “That surprised us.”
Truckee Fire Protection District Chief Mike Terwilliger said it was fortunate no one was hurt from falling trees and airborne debris.
“People were out walking around (during the storm),” Terwilliger said. “I think we lucked out pretty well. I’m amazed we didn’t have someone hurt from flying debris.”
Truckee Fire responded to 12 calls for falling trees in Sierra Meadows and the West End of Donner Lake in a 45-minute time period around 10 a.m.; three fallen trees that caused significant damage to homes.
Donner State Park employees were evacuated for an hour when a tree fell on a propane tank, causing a 500-gallon leak.
Throughout the day on Monday, TFPD responded to 21 emergency incidents, ranging from vehicle accidents, trees on houses and downed power lines. The district typically responds to between six and 10 calls on a winter day.
While responding to a three-vehicle accident Highway 267, TFPD’s rescue vehicle was involved in an accident on Donner Pass Road when a car pulled out in front of the rescue vehicle. Terwilliger said a Jeep Cherokee, driven by a Tahoe-Truckee High School student, pulled out in front of the rescue truck, and rescue officials did not see the Jeep until the two vehicles collided. There were two passengers in the Jeep, and only the driver was taken to Tahoe Forest Hospital for minor injuries.
The rescue truck was back in service within eight hours, Terwilliger said. Co-operating agencies helped cover while the vehicle was being repaired.
“Monday was pretty busy, but it was all weather-related,” he said. “I’ve seen the wind come through numerous times, but I haven’t seen it blow down trees in Truckee like this. I think the reason the trees were falling down is because we had 24 hours of heavy rain (before the winds came). The ground was wet … It was a real scouring wind that was hitting every nook and cranny.”
Truckee Fire used the mutual aid of Northstar Fire Department to help with increased emergency calls.
On the summit, Donner Summit Fire Department had to use its old radio frequency through Cisco Grove when the radio went out on Donner Peak due to high winds.
DSFD responded to five calls Monday, two for vehicle accidents on the summit and three for downed and arcing power lines. Most summit ski areas were either closed or partially closed due to power outages and winds in excess of 100 mph on the mountain ridges, DSFD officials said.
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