Mountain storm: Great water supply and skiing with a big dose of danger

California's mountains provide water, natural habitat, recreation, and tourism. That said, the mountains can provide real winter danger. As of Friday afternoon, I-80 westbound traffic is being turned at the Nevada State Line, and eastbound traffic on the same interstate is being turned around at Drum Forebay due to spin-outs, high winds, and low visibility.

There's currently no estimated time for reopening the freeways.

"If you don't have to travel, don't…Your safety is number one," CHP Tahoe Information Officer Ruth Loehr.

Even in its monthly snow survey, the Department of Water Resources echoed the CHP. 

"We want to remind the public, 'do not travel to the Sierra Nevada this upcoming weekend,’" said DWR water engineer Angelique Fabbiani-Leon. 

"Just avoid travel. Stay at home or another safe place," said PG&E Sierra Region spokesman Paul Moreno.

The blizzard will bring high winds, massive snow, bitter cold, falling trees, and even snow-laden mudslides.

Beyond full closures and long delays, slippery conditions can cause collisions or vehicles leaving the road into high snow drifts where deadly hypothermia is possible or going off cliffs. Running vehicles covered with snow can cause carbon monoxide asphyxiation.

Mountain power outages are likely to be widespread. 

"We expect a significant storm, especially in the Sierra Nevada region, because of low and heavy snow. This does lead to power outages when trees get laden with snow and fail," said Moreno.

The utility will bring in additional crews, contractors, materials, and mountain machinery knowing that access to downed power lines can be difficult or impossible. That's because many power poles span forests instead of established roads. 

"We use snowcats, snowmobiles and other equipment that can travel on snow and carry materials and crews," said Moreno.

Nonetheless, at Berkeley's California Ski Company, dangerous roads notwithstanding, the anticipated crowd of customers wants to be mountainside to enjoy after-blizzard powder. 


Blizzard conditions close Yosemite National Park, ski resort operations

Yosemite National Park closed at midnight Thursday because of a major winter storm that is expected to cause blizzard conditions. And ski resorts were closing some of their runs, too.

"They still want to get up there and be there, so that when the resorts do open, and it's safe to ski, they can have kind of the first taste of the new snow," said manager Greg Winkels.

Statewide, a survey found the snowpack is 80% of the average for this date, but still just 70% of the peak April 1 average. 

"We have a big storm starting here through the weekend, and it will be a cold one. The first cold storm of the year and it will be a good producer," said water engineer Reisling. 

"It will take several additional storms within the month of March to get us from the current 70% of April on average up to 100% of average by the first of April," said water engineer Fabbiani-Leon.

The state's Big Six mega reservoirs are almost 80% full, which is 114% of where they've historically been on this date. That is generally true at Northern California's 30 major reservoirs.