Blizzard, avalanche warnings in Sierra as storm hits Nevada

Photo: Kirkwood Mountain Resort

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Emergency crews still clearing flood debris from the streets of Reno and other Northern Nevada cities started revving up the snowplows Tuesday as yet another fierce winter storm barreled into the state, closing all major Sierra passes in dangerous blizzard conditions.

The National Weather Service added a rare blizzard warning to an avalanche warning already in place through Wednesday in the Lake Tahoe area, where nearly 3 feet of snow had fallen by Tuesday evening. Winds gusting up to 100 mph were forecast over the ridgetops, where total snowfall could reach 10 feet by Thursday.

"This is definitely a dangerous, life-threatening situation going on up there," said Scott McGuire, a weather service forecaster in Reno said. "People should not attempt to travel at all."

Residents of two neighborhoods on Lake Tahoe's north shore were told to stay indoors because of the high avalanche danger.

Washoe County officials said people in Crystal Bay and Incline Village should shelter in place until conditions improve. They said that under similar circumstances, the Crystal Bay area near the California line has been hit by avalanches large enough to break trees and move cars.

"Cornices along the ridge above Crystal Bay will be getting large enough to fall on their own weight and trigger long-running avalanches that could reach homes below," said Tia Rancourt, spokeswoman for the North lake Tahoe Fire Protection District.

Crews worked through the night into Tuesday morning in Reno and Sparks to clear tree branches and other debris that cluttered roads and closed several bridges after significant flooding Sunday and Monday.

"We're going to have to switch over to snow removal," Reno public works director Dave Solaro said.

Light rain falling in Reno and Sparks was expected to begin to turn to snow Tuesday night, with multiple inches possible in the Sierra foothills on the west edge of Reno.

Northern Nevada roads and highways that had been closed due to flooding earlier, continued to take a beating.

Interstate 80 has been closed since 5 a.m. Tuesday from the Nevada state line just west of Reno over the top of the Sierra west of Truckee, California. A mudslide closed U.S. Highway 95 near Walker Lake about 10 miles north of Hawthorne Tuesday afternoon, and high winds toppled a semi-trailer truck north of Reno, temporarily blocking both southbound lanes of U.S. Highway 395.

Blizzard conditions forced the closure of the Mount Rose Highway connecting Reno to Lake Tahoe, as well as U.S. 395 south of the state line near Bridgeport, California, and California State Highway 267 near the Northstar ski resort south of Truckee.

State Route 446 near Pyramid Lake north of Reno remains closed indefinitely between Sutcliffe and Nixon after flood waters washed out the road early Monday and left behind a 50-foot crevasse.

The succession of storms — which included 6 feet of snow atop the Sierra last week — is already starting to have a noticeable impact on drought conditions. They've added 33 billion gallons of water to Lake Tahoe since Jan. 1. That's enough to supply every household of four with water for a year in a city of 100,000, or cover New York's Manhattan Island 7 feet deep.