(AP/KTXL) — The coldest weather to hit the Reno-Tahoe area in nearly five years is expected to arrive by the weekend on the heels of a series of storms that have dumped more than 10 feet of snow on parts of the Sierra over the past week and continue to wreak havoc on area travel.
The aftermath of the storms again snarled traffic on Interstate 80 and state highways around Lake Tahoe on Wednesday. Gov. Steve Sisolak declared a state of emergency for northern Nevada along the Sierra’s eastern front due to the snowy conditions.
A spokesperson for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services told FOX40 that California Gov. Gavin Newsom has “activated the State Emergency Operations Center in Mather to actively coordinate the state’s response to these storms and work closely with local and federal and private sector partners to protect communities impacted by the recent storm.”
“Crews are battling fallen trees and power lines as well as seven-day snow totals of 6 to 11 feet (1.8 to 3.3 meters),” the National Weather Service said.
Caltrans says multiple highways are closed due to downed trees and avalanche concerns. The closures include:
- Highway 20 between Nevada City and the Interstate 80 separation.
- Highweay 49 from Marysville Road to Sattley.
- Highway 70 from Jarbo Gap to the Greenville Wye.
- Highway 89 from Harper’s Grade to Emerald Bay.
The roadways that are open are heavily congested with traffic.
“We had a call of a vehicle spinout. And normally it would take about 12-15 minutes to get there, with lights and siren, using the center divide. It took almost an hour to get there,” California Highway Patrol Officer Michael Macias.
Macias advises residents that it’s better to stay home, but for those who do drive, he has some advice.
“Chain control, max speed is 30 mph. I tell a lot of people, drive a little bit slower than that. Because even 30 mph is a little bit too fast,” Macias said.
A winter weather advisory remained in effect through 10 p.m. Wednesday around Lake Tahoe, where a couple more inches of snow was expected at lake level and up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) above elevations of 7,000 feet. Flurries were falling again Wednesday in Reno-Sparks.
The recent winter snowstorms have been shattering records, with the University of California, Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Lab reporting 122 inches of snow in the last seven days and 210 inches since the start of December from their Donner Pass location.
The NWS said the next front coming in from the north will bring the region the “coldest air in nearly five years” with single-digit lows in Reno by Friday night, and temperatures well below zero early Saturday and Sunday in the Sierra and around Lake Tahoe.
The Douglas County Community & Senior Center opened a warming shelter in rural Gardnerville south of Carson City in anticipation of the bitter cold.
On Wednesday, I-80 was reopened from the California-Nevada line to near Truckee, but chains were mandatory for about a 40-mile stretch west of Truckee to Gold Run for all vehicles except those with four-wheel drive and snow tires. Chains also were required on most all other highways in and around Lake Tahoe.
The California Highway Patrol warned travel was extremely slow on I-80 due to backed up traffic where icy conditions persist and urged motorists to avoid any non-essential travel.
“Since this weekend, we’ve had 45 roads that have been closed across the state,” said Toks Omishakin, the director of Caltrans. “The message we want to get out to people out there is to just stay off the roads. Only if you have to make an essential trip are we recommending people get out there.”
“The last thing we want is for I-80 to close due to traffic collisions,” the CHP tweeted.
A statement released by Gov. Sisolak’s office said Nevada’s emergency declaration will allow state officials to order vehicles traveling on mountain highways to turn around and return to lower elevations until weather conditions subside and the roadways are safe to use.
“This will help prevent motorists from becoming stranded overnight on the roadways, potentially running out of gas in subfreezing temperatures without access to emergency services,” the statement said.
It said Highway 50 and State Routes 207 and 28 were experiencing long delays and dangerous conditions and that authorities need to be able to clear the roadways to make room for emergency vehicles and snowplows.
This story is developing. Check back for more updates.