World

Blizzard leaves thousands of homes without power in California and Nevada

The weather service warned that blowing snow was creating ‘extremely dangerous to impossible’ driving conditions

Vehicles make their way along a snow-covered road during a storm (Brooke Hess-Homeier/AP)
California Blizzard Vehicles make their way along a snow-covered road during a storm (Brooke Hess-Homeier/AP) (Brooke Hess-Homeier/AP)

A powerful blizzard that a meteorologist called “as bad as it gets” has howled through the Sierra Nevada mountains in the US, closing major roads, forcing ski resorts to shut and leaving tens of thousands of homes without power.

More than 10ft of snow was expected at higher elevations, National Weather Service meteorologist William Churchill said on Saturday, creating a “life-threatening concern” for residents near Lake Tahoe and blocking travel on the key east-west freeway.

“It’s a blizzard,” said Dubravka Tomasin, a resident of Truckee, California, for more than a decade. “It’s pretty harrowing.”

Residents have been urged to take shelter and stay off roads (Bay Area News Group via AP)
A car drives in heavy snow Residents have been urged to take shelter and stay off roads (Bay Area News Group via AP) (Jane Tyska/AP)

Kyle Frankland, a veteran snow plough driver, said several parts of his rig broke as he cleared wet snow underneath piles of powder.

“I’ve been in Truckee 44 years. This is a pretty good storm,” Mr Frankland said. “It’s not record-breaking by any means but it’s a good storm.”

Mr Churchill said snow totals by late Sunday would range from 5 to 12ft, with the highest accumulations at elevations above 5,000ft. Lower elevations were inundated with heavy rain.

He called the storm an “extreme blizzard for the Sierra Nevada, in particular, as well as other portions of Nevada and even extending into Utah and portions of western Colorado”. But he said he did not expect records to be broken.

As much as 10ft of snow is expected in some areas (Bay Area News Group via AP)
Someone shovels snow As much as 10ft of snow is expected in some areas (Bay Area News Group via AP) (Jane Tyska/AP)

“It’s certainly just about as bad as it gets in terms of the snow totals and the winds,” Mr Churchill said. “It doesn’t get much worse than that.”

Earlier, the weather service warned that blowing snow was creating “extremely dangerous to impossible” driving conditions, with wind gusts in the high mountains at more than 100mph.

Avalanche danger was “high to extreme” in back country areas through Sunday evening throughout the central Sierra and greater Lake Tahoe area, the weather service said.

California authorities on Friday shut down 100 miles of I-80, the main route between Reno and Sacramento, due to “spin outs, high winds, and low visibility”.

There was no estimate when the freeway would reopen from the California-Nevada border west of Reno to near Emigrant Gap, California.

The warning lasts until Sunday (AP)
Snowy road The warning lasts until Sunday (AP) (Andy Barron/AP)

Travel was treacherous east of the Sierra, where CalTrans also cited “multiple spin outs and collisions” and “whiteout conditions,” as it closed 90 miles of US 395 from near Bishop in the Owens Valley to Bridgeport, north of Mono Lake.

Pacific Gas & Electric reported almost 17,000 California homes and businesses without power around noon. NV Energy reported power outages for about 5,000 customers in northern Nevada.

In southern Nevada, where the weather service issued a warning on Saturday for high winds gusting to 70mph, NV Energy reported more than 27,000 customers without power in and around Las Vegas.

A tornado on Friday afternoon in Madera County, California, caused some damage to an elementary school, said Andy Bollenbacher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford.

Some ski resorts shut down on Friday and were digging out on Saturday with an eye toward reopening on Sunday.

Palisades Tahoe, the largest resort on the north end of Tahoe and site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, closed all chairlifts on Saturday due to snow, wind and low visibility.