Stormy roads see bumper cars, traffic
Wet pavement that froze in the blink of an eye, combined with a layer of snow and the holiday weekend’s high traffic volumes added up for disaster around Truckee-Tahoe.
Despite chain control orders that were issued Sunday and Monday throughout the region, roadways resembled bumper car arenas. And slow-moving traffic came to a complete standstill for hours, with cars backed up for miles on end ” most notably on Interstate 80, Highway 89 between Alpine Meadows and in Truckee.
Rick Grundy, manager of the Chevron gas station near Donner Lake, said customers wiped out his stock of chains Sunday evening, and the restroom line wrapped all the way around the building ” as happens when traffic backs up on I-80 over a holiday weekend, Grundy said.
“It’s probably been two years, at least, since we’ve seen anything close to this,” Grundy said.
With storms brewing in the forecast for the next week, some don’t expect the roads will improve any time soon.
“The whole thing that’s contributing to the roads being so screwed up right now ” it froze real quick,” said Jeremy Wallace, a driver for Milne Towing. “It’s very icy. It’s not like we just got fresh snow.”
Wallace said he’s working around the clock just to keep up with the increase in vehicle accidents throughout the area. Calls reporting collisions have been coming in nonstop since Sunday morning, he said.
“People are driving way too fast and not putting chains on,” said Wallace, in the middle of a 48-hour shift that started at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning.
Cars slid down hills, spun out into the middle of the road and cut off traffic, Wallace reported. Drivers ran into snowbanks, rear-ended each other and flipped their cars.
One vehicle nearly rolled into Lake Tahoe, he said.
Of the incidents that Wallace responded to, three out of four involved out-of-town drivers, he said. Weekend visitors who don’t have four-wheel drive cars and installed chains improperly caused a majority of the weekend’s fender-benders.
“The ignorance of chains is abundant up here,” Wallace said.
While accident numbers are overwhelming, it appears that car bumpers and frames ” rather than human flesh ” are bearing the brunt of the injury.
The North Tahoe Fire Protection District said Monday that they received several calls from dispatch, two of which involved injuries. No further information on the extent of the injuries was provided. Dispatch only notifies the fire district when potential for injury is reported at the scene.
North Tahoe Fire Chief Duane Whitelaw said the accidents were fairly typical for the associated conditions.
“It’s when the roads look good and the speed is increased,” Whitelaw said. “Then the condition results in more chances for injuries to occur…the roads can be deceiving when they look dry.”
The holiday storm was sudden and cold, but meteorologists said it wasn’t as severe as originally thought.
“It’s not as cold as it was originally coming in as,” said Meteorologist Kyle Mozley, noting that the storm stalled in San Francisco.
Temperatures were forecast to range from the mid-20s to low-teens, Mozley said, with heavier snow showers by the lake. Mozley predicted four to six inches at lake level, with six to 10 inches above 7,000 feet.
A few more storms are expected to immediately follow this system, dumping snow on the Sierra Nevada through next weekend. Though the weather models remain inconsistent, meteorologists predict the second storm will be stronger than the initial hit.
“It’s just going to be one right after the other,” Mozley said. “And it’s following a similar track.”
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