Spring storm closes 2 major trans-Sierra highways

RENO (AP) - The calendar may say spring but it looks like winter in the Sierra Nevada.

A powerful storm brought more heavy snow to the Sierra on Sunday, closing mountain highways but boosting the summer water outlooks for Nevada and California.

Interstate 80 over Donner Summit, the main link between Reno and northern California, was shut down due to poor visibility, California Highway Patrol Officer Tony Prisco said.

Highway 88, which connects the Sacramento, Calif., and Lake Tahoe areas, also was closed due to avalanche-control activities near Kirkwood, Calif.

The only other major trans-Sierra highway in the region, U.S. 50 over Echo Summit, was closed off and on Sunday due to avalanche-control efforts, Prisco said.

"The big problem is we're getting these massive amounts of wind up on top and that's what's really causing problems," he said. "It's been snowing heavily all day long and hasn't let up at all. When you add the snow and wind together, it wipes things out."

Highway 89 was closed for more than two hours after a minor avalanche covered both lanes near Alpine Meadows just north of Tahoe, authorities said. No vehicles were trapped, and no injuries were reported.

The Boreal ski resort atop Donner Summit reported 3 feet of new snow over a 24-hour period ending early Sunday, and up to 6 feet of new snow in recent days. The resort has received more than 600 inches of snow so far this season, close to its record of 662 inches of snow in 1994-95.

Boreal spokesman Jon Slaughter said he and other employees shoveled a 9-foot snowpack off the roof of the resort's base lodge. The resort was closed because of high winds and heavy snow.

"We needed some time to dig out because we've been getting so much snow," he said. "Some of our lift terminals are below the snow level, so we have to pull some snow out of there. We get big storms in March, but they don't typically last as long as this one."

Other resorts, including Alpine Meadows, cited an extreme avalanche threat for their closures.

The snowfall pushed the water content of the Lake Tahoe basin's snowpack up to 158 percent of average for the date. The Sierra snowpack provides much of the runoff water for homes, businesses and farms in Nevada and California.

"We're sitting in a wonderful spot, particularly compared to what we've been looking at the last several years" when the region had a below-average snowpack, chief deputy water master Chad Blanchard told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Elsewhere, D. Guidi, a spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric Co., confirmed nearly 12,000 storm-related power outages in the San Francisco Bay area and an additional 15,600 in the utility's Sierra region.

The rain and snow and the heavily saturated ground were likely to slow down repairs in the Sierra region and could cause delays of up to 72 hours, Guidi said.

PG&E was bringing in specialized equipment and working with contracted crews from southern Oregon and southern California, he said.


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