Series of storms hits Sierra with most snow in 90 years
Published: Monday, January 10, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 9, 2005 at 10:51 p.m.
RENO, Nev. - Areas of the Sierra Nevada, famous for paralyzing amounts of snowfall, have been hit with a dumping like they haven't seen in generations, with steep drifts stranding an Amtrak train, knocking out the Reno airport and shutting down major highways across the mountains.
The string of moisture-laden storms has dropped up to 19 feet of snow at elevations above 7,000 feet since Dec. 28 and 6 1/2 feet at lower elevations in the Reno area.
Meteorologists said it was the most snow the Reno-Lake Tahoe area has seen since 1916.
"I've lived here for almost 40 years and I've never seen anything like it," Peter Walenta, 69, said Sunday from his home in Stateline, on the southern end of Lake Tahoe. "This baby just seems to be stretching on forever. Right now I'm looking out the window and it's dumping."
Storms also have caused flooding in Southern California and Arizona, deadly avalanches in Utah and ice damage and flooding in the Ohio Valley.
The weather was blamed for at least seven weekend deaths in Southern California, including a homeless man killed Sunday by a landslide. Along the storms' eastward track, avalanches killed two people Saturday in Utah, authorities said.
A lull in the storm allowed the reopening Sunday of Interstate 80 over Donner Summit and U.S. 50 over Echo Summit after the highways were closed off and on for more than a day.
The highways connect Sacramento, Calif., to Reno.
"The snowbanks along Interstate 80 are about 8 to 10 feet high. It's like you're going through a maze," said Jane Dulaney, spokeswoman for the Rainbow Lodge west of Donner Summit.
About 25 motorists were rescued by National Guard members in Humvees after they become stranded overnight on U.S. Highway 395 about 20 miles south of Reno, Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Jeff Bowers said. Motorists had to wait up to six hours until rescuers could reach them after daylight Sunday.
"That would have been as scary as it gets to be out there alone in those conditions," Bowers said.
More than 220 Amtrak passengers were back in Sacramento on Sunday after spending the night stuck in their train in deep snow west of Donner Summit, spokesman Marc Magliari said.
One car of the California Zephyr, eastbound from Oakland, Calif., to Chicago, derailed in the snow Saturday evening.
No one was hurt.
Amtrak officials moved the passengers to other cars and the train reversed course and returned to Sacramento about 6 a.m.
Because of the derailment, a westbound Zephyr had to stop in Reno and its roughly 140 passengers completed their trip to California by bus.
Reno-Tahoe International Airport was closed for 12 hours overnight for the second time in a week, and only the third time in 40 years, because plows could not keep up with the heavy snowfall, spokeswoman Trish Tucker said.
"It's nice to know that there are places with more snow than the Dakotas," Wendy Wollmuth said while waiting for a flight to her home in Moffit, N.D. "We're a bit spooked about being here with all this snow."
Church services and weekend high school sporting events in the Reno area were canceled. Reservations at the Arch of Reno wedding chapel were down 50 percent from a normal weekend, spokeswoman Kathy Allen said.
When the latest storm hit, the Reno region had still been digging out from a Dec. 30 storm that dumped as much as 4 feet of snow on the city.
"You'd have to go back to 1916 to top this sequence of storms," National Weather Service forecaster Tom Cylke said Sunday of the snow accumulation in Reno.
Flash flood warnings were posted throughout Southern California. Residents of a mobile home park in Santa Clarita, northwest of Los Angeles, were evacuated Sunday after 5 feet of water spilled in from a creek.
"An eight-foot masonry wall that was protecting the structures gave way and water is rushing into all the houses," said Inspector John Mancha. Authorities weren't immediately sure how many people were evacuated.
A two-story home collapsed in the Studio City area above the San Fernando Valley. A man and his two children were pulled from the rubble with minor injuries.
Elsewhere, flooding along the Ohio River had chased hundreds of Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky residents from their homes. Meteorologists predicted the river would reach its highest level in eight years at Louisville, Ky., this week at about 5 feet above flood stage. Cincinnati was already more than 2 feet above its 52-foot flood stage Sunday, with forecasters expecting a crest at 57.5 feet.
Indiana officials said some of the worst flooding since 1937 had isolated pockets across the southern part of the state, forcing hundreds of people from their homes.
The storm that fed the flooding also knocked out power last week in parts of western and northern Ohio. Utilities said Sunday that about 66,000 customers remained without electricity, down from a peak of 250,000. More than 37,000 customers were still blacked out Sunday in Pennsylvania, and 56,500 were without power in Indiana.
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