Winter blows into town | SierraSun.com

Winter blows into town

Jim Scripps

What started as a dry month with the Truckee river at a trickle and browning Sierra slopes hovering on hillsides – the telltale signs of extreme drought – quickly turned into a wet, sloppy mess as Truckee and the Sierra was pounded this week with its first winter storm.

Locally, ski resorts reveled in the weather, preparing to open early relative to recent years. Drivers and local residents, however, may not have expressed the same revelry.

Extended power outages and flash floods slowed traffic and kept many areas dark while the rain and snow poured down.

Chains were mandatory during much of the weekend on all three major trans-Sierra highways linking the Lake Tahoe and Sacramento areas: Interstate 80 over Donner Summit, U.S. 50 over Echo Summit and Highway 88 over Carson Pass.

I-80’s westbound lanes were closed for an hour Sunday morning over the summit because of whiteout conditions and congestion, the California Highway Patrol said.

Westbound truck rigs and buses on the interstate were held much of the day west of Reno to avoid adding to the congestion.

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No major accidents were reported.

Several days of windy conditions played havoc with local residents, knocking out power in several areas and creating headaches, especially in Donner Lake, where some homes were without power from Thursday to Monday.

Truckee Donner Public Utility District engineer Stephen Hollabaugh, said the wind on Thursday and Friday literally knocked down hundreds of trees and as many as 10 telephone poles in the Donner Lake area.

“I was amazed at how many houses weren’t damaged,” Hollabaugh said. “A lot of these were green trees – not dead trees – green trees. And the tops just snapped right off.”

Electricians and contract crews were out in force from Thursday throughout the weekend, restoring power during outages in Glenshire, Prosser Lakeview, Sierra Meadows and Tahoe Donner. For the most part, the scattered outages were restored within hours. The damage at Donner Lake, however, took longer because of the number of fallen trees. The PUD had a contract crew of tree cutters to help with the repairs.

By Monday afternoon, some semblance of order was restored to Donner Lake, Hollabaugh said, but many customers will have further repairs to undertake. On several homes, the utility boxes were ripped right off.

At UC Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station eight miles north of Truckee on Highway 89, a tree fell on one of the outbuildings, destroying it, according to Jeff Brown, the station manager.

“We heard it, but it was pitch black out and it didn’t register,” he said. “We also had a tree that almost hit the house. It was a pretty big event.”

There was also a garage destroyed in Tahoe Donner, where a 3- to 4-foot tree fell. A crane had to remove a large tree in Donner Lake after it fell on a deck, almost cutting through a home.

While motorists and electricity customers cursed the storm, local ski resort operators rejoiced, with several planning to open in the coming week:

— Boreal opened on a limited basis two weeks ago, but was reporting more than two feet of fresh snow this week, with the 49’er, Gunnars, Claimjumper, Nugget and Cedar Ridge chairs running. Visit skiboreal.com for more information.

— Donner Ski Ranch is scheduled to open its front side to the top on Nov. 15, after celebrating more than three feet of snowfall during the storm. Spokesman Gary Cox said the resort is approximately 55 percent open. Nov. 21, Donner Ski Ranch will be running a $1 lift ticket promotion. Visit donnerskiranch.com for more information.

— Northstar reported more than three feet of snow this week, with plans to open on Nov. 23. Visit http://www.skinorthstar.com for details.

— Sierra at Tahoe reported 18 to 33 inches of snow, and is slated for a Nov. 27 opening. Visit http://www.sierratahoe.com for more information.

— Squaw Valley plans to open on Nov. 16 after receiving more than 30 inches of snow, according to reports. Open lifts have yet to be determined, but spokeswoman Katja Dahl said it will probably be limited to the upper mountain with pre-season pricing. Call 583-6955, or visit squaw.com for complete details.

— Alpine Meadows is ready to open on a limited basis ($25 lift tickets to ride the Roundhouse Quad) today. The resort reported 2 to 5 feet of snowfall during last week’s storm. On Friday the resort will open to the bottom, adding Summit 6 and Meadow chairs. Visit http://www.skialpine.com for more information. Pre-season pricing and specials will continue.

— Homewood is waiting to see what mother nature dishes out before deciding on a definitive opening date; however, the resort will definitely open by Nov.28 (Thanksgiving), for the four-day weekend. A possible opening date of Nov. 23 is being considered. Call 525-2992 or visit http://www.skihomewood.com for more information.

— Diamond Peak anticipates a Dec. 12 opening.

— Sugar Bowl will open Friday, with Mt. Lincoln Express and the Nob Hill Quad lifts open. Four feet of snow was reported this week at the top of the mountain. The resort hopes to open Mt. Disney Express and additional lifts as conditions permit for the weekend. Tickets will be $35. Visit http://www.sugarbowl.com, or call 426-1111 for more information.

Mark Deutschendorf, a National Weather Service forecaster, said the latest snowfall pushed the Tahoe snowpack from 200 percent to 300 percent of normal for the date.

“This would be a good January storm and we’re getting a November bonus,” he said. “This is a good, strong storm with plenty of moisture. It’s encouraging as far as the water situation.”

Water officials are hoping for a healthy snowpack after three straight dry winters. The Sierra snowpack is a major water source for Nevada and California.

Tahoe City, Calif., on Tahoe’s north shore reported 10 inches of snow as the snow level dropped to 5,500 feet Saturday night. Truckee, and other locations at lake level, got between 4-6 inches, Deutschendorf said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.