CHP: ‘Extremely Heavy Snowfall’ Backs Up Sierra Holiday Travel

PLACER COUNTY -- Both days this past weekend were big travel days.

Still, there were plenty of people on the road on Christmas Eve and it was a challenge for those traveling through the Sierra.

In the valley, driving conditions were routine for a winter day with some light mist. But traffic on Interstate 80 was moving at the speed limit. Going east, the higher drivers went, the less visibility there was.

The CHP says "extremely heavy snowfall" caused multiple crashes and spin-outs along I-80. The National Weather Service has been warning drivers to avoid traveling through parts of the Sierra late Monday due to the snow.

Still, people at the rest stop outside Colfax felt pretty confident. It was the last pit stop before heading over the summit for them and their four-legged passengers who have made the trip before.

Adrian Zanbrando and Brenda Barajas traveled with a group from Oakland. They didn’t like the road conditions but were hoping for a different Christmas experience.

"We have some people coming from far bringing them up to the snow spending Christmas," Barajas said. "Hopefully, it's a white Christmas."

Their wish came true above the 6,000-foot level. The interstate was shut down from Kingvale to the Donner Lake interchange for several hours and traffic was turned around. Heavy snow and multiple spinouts were the culprits, causing a three-mile backup.

"Couple of accidents up ahead and we had to close the whole freeway down," said Officer Jesse Miller with the CHP. "Everything gets backed up. Of course, the weather is always changing so chain controls can be moving."

Even when the interstate was reopened motorists were encouraged to exercise caution over Donner Summit.

The Caltrans chain checks kept traffic moving slowly and CHP officers were not cutting any breaks during the holidays.

"It’s not worth it. Any accident is going slow you down even more potentially. Safety of everybody else is obviously more important," Miller said.

So even when road reports show highways through the mountains are open, things can change very quickly and things may be slow going even if there is no closure.

For those traveling between Donner Lake Road and Kingvale, chains are required on all vehicles except four-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles with snow-tread tires.

“It took us two hours to get here from Truckee. It should’ve been 15 minutes. We got stuck on the road. It was awful,” exclaimed Anna Shumaker.

Some drivers regret not hitting the road sooner.

Despite the delays, travelers like Larry Baker are still eager to make it to their destinations.

“It’ll be my first white Christmas in what…10? 12 years,” he said.

The Winter Weather Advisory will be lifted by 7 a.m. Tuesday after the area is expected to see up to 18 inches of snow in the higher passes, according to NWS.

Crews will continue plowing the roads throughout the night, they advise those that don't have to travel tonight, to wait at least until Tuesday morning.

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