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Tahoe Nugget #159

Powder Buries Tahoe
Dec. 16, 2008

Grab your boards because Tahoe resorts are back in business! Over the past four days, between 31 to 58 inches of light, fluffy powder blanketed the region's ski areas.

Mountain crews are now working feverishly to get the fresh snow groomed and the runs open for the hoards of skiers and snowboarders who have been chomping at the bit while waiting impatiently for the snow.

The cold storm dropped snow levels into the low Sierra foothills and western Nevada which caused numerous spinouts and traffic delays. On Interstate 80 the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) enforced chain controls for motorists not driving all-wheel drive vehicles with snow tires on all four wheels. The controls started at Auburn, California, at 1,200 feet in elevation on the Sierra west slope and were in force all the way to the Nevada state line.

Interstate 80 is a vital conduit to Truckee and Tahoe's North Shore, home to major resorts like Sugar Bowl, Northstar, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. More than 70 percent of winter visitors in the Tahoe region drive up from Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. Keeping Interstate 80 open and traffic flowing during major winter storms requires an army of men and women manning an armada of snow removal equipment.

On Sunday I had the dubious privilege of driving over Donner Pass during the first phase of the recent storm. Motorists without all-wheel drive vehicles with approved winter tires had to chain up to cross the Sierra. (Technically, all vehicles traveling I-80 over Donner Pass during the winter months are required to carry chains.) Tractor trailers have to chain up their drive and brake wheels, a tedious and time consuming chore. Maximum speed is 30 mph when chain controls are in effect.

Professional "chain monkeys" will install your tire chains properly for $30. Fifty years ago you could get chains mounted or taken off for about 50 cents, but no matter what the fee it's your only choice if you're not willing or prepared to lay down in the slush for a cold, wet job.

To help keep the road clear during white out conditions, Caltrans' has developed a high tech snowplow loaded with gadgets like a radar system that will prevent the 10-wheeled diesel from colliding with vehicles abandoned on the highway. It also uses magnets embedded in the roadway to allow the operator to drive "blind."

Nate Robinson, a Caltrans driver said of the tricked out plow, "You can't take out the human factor, but if the road was closed, the windows taped over and there were magnets in the road, I could drive from here to San Francisco."

Tahoe Nuggets are now archived at www.thestormking.com

Photo #1: This sign on Interstate 80 just east of Sacramento is your first clue of potential trouble ahead.
Photo #2: Chain control enforcement check point. Without chains or four-wheel drive with snow tires you may not proceed.
Photo #3: Infrared satellite of cold low pressure system spinning counter-clockwise over Pacific Northwest on December 13. On this day Squaw Valley picked up 8 inches of snow from the initial cold front. Over the next three days, the storm tracked south along the Pacific Coast pumping moisture into the Sierra. The speckled white puffs off the Oregon Coast are cumulus cloud formations, indicative of very cold air over the ocean and a strong signature for powder snow in the Sierra.
Photo #4: Fantasy forecast for powder hounds. Note consistent snowfall pattern and low temperature profile. Beautiful!
Photo #5: Even in the old days, having your tire chains installed or removed cost money. Before the development of metal chains, motorists wrapped rope through the tire spokes.
Photo #6: 1935 magazine ad for tire chains.
Photo #7: On my drive over Donner Pass I stopped to take a photo of this nice mountain chalet along the South Fork of the Yuba River.
Photo #8: Traffic on I 80 on December 14, 2008.
Photo #9: All westbound traffic was held for four hours east of Donner Pass due to spinouts and crashes near the Summit.
Photo #10: Despite complaints about road closures and chain requirements, it's the Sierra Snowfighters who are working nonstop to help keep you alive and safely on your way.

Nugget #159 A Snow on Summit sign

Nugget #159 B Chain control station

Nugget #159 C Infrared Satellite of Cold Storm

Nugget #159 D NWS powder snow temp  icons

Nugget #159 E Chains Off 50 cents

Nugget #159 F 1935 tire chains ad

Nugget #159 G Nice house on Yuba River

Nugget #159 H Traveling 80 with snow

Nugget #159 I Westbound traffic held 4 hourrs

Nugget #159 J Snowfighters Sign

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