Areas of the Sierra Nevada, famous for paralyzing amounts of snowfall, have been hit with a dumping like they haven't seen in generations, with steep drifts stranding an Amtrak...
RENO, Nev. — Areas of the Sierra Nevada, famous for paralyzing amounts of snowfall, have been hit with a dumping like they haven’t seen in generations, with steep drifts stranding an Amtrak train, knocking out the Reno airport and shutting down major highways across the mountains.
The string of moisture-laden storms has dropped up to 19 feet of snow at elevations above 7,000 feet since Dec. 28 and 6-1/2 feet at lower elevations in the Reno area. Meteorologists said it was the most snow the Reno-Lake Tahoe area has seen since 1916.
“I’ve lived here for almost 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Peter Walenta, 69, from his home in Stateline, on the southern end of Lake Tahoe.
Storms also caused flooding in Southern California and Arizona and deadly avalanches in Utah. The weather was blamed for at least eight weekend deaths in Southern California, including a homeless man killed yesterday by a landslide. Along the storms’ eastward track, avalanches killed two people Saturday in Utah, authorities said.
An avalanche yesterday afternoon killed a 13-year-old boy after knocking him from a ski lift at the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort, 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
A lull in the storm allowed the reopening yesterday of Interstate 80 over Donner Summit and U.S. 50 over Echo Summit after the highways were closed off and on for more than a day. The highways connect Sacramento, Calif., to Reno.
“The snowbanks along Interstate 80 are about 8 to 10 feet high. It’s like you’re going through a maze,” said Jane Dulaney, spokeswoman for the Rainbow Lodge west of Donner Summit.
About 25 motorists were rescued by National Guard members in Humvees after they became stranded overnight on U.S. Highway 395 about 20 miles south of Reno, Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Jeff Bowers said. Motorists waited up to six hours until rescuers could reach them after daylight yesterday.
The California Highway Patrol last night reported 720 crashes, more than three times the number of accidents during the previous Sunday when roads were dry.
More than 220 Amtrak passengers were back in Sacramento yesterday after spending the night stuck in their train in deep snow west of Donner Summit, spokesman Marc Magliari said.
One car of the California Zephyr, eastbound from Oakland, Calif., to Chicago, derailed in the snow Saturday evening. No one was hurt. Amtrak officials moved the passengers to other cars and the train reversed course and returned to Sacramento about 6 a.m. Because of the derailment, a westbound Zephyr had to stop in Reno and its roughly 140 passengers completed their trip to California by bus.
Reno-Tahoe International Airport was closed for 12 hours overnight for the second time in a week, and only the third time in 40 years, because plows could not keep up with the heavy snowfall.