Monday, April 15, 2024

CHP Urges Drivers to Avoid Travel as Blizzard Pummels Sierra Nevada

HomeU.S.CHP Urges Drivers to Avoid Travel as Blizzard Pummels Sierra Nevada

A powerful winter storm is set to pummel the Sierra Nevada mountains this weekend, prompting officials from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to urge drivers to avoid travel on mountain roads until the blizzard passes.

Upwards of 10 feet of snow is predicted to fall across the highest peaks around Lake Tahoe and Truckee over the next 72 hours as an atmospheric river event takes aim at the region. The extreme snow totals expected with this storm pose a significant risk to drivers attempting to traverse mountain passes, with near-zero visibility and blizzard conditions likely at the height of the storm Friday night through Saturday.

“We’re asking people to avoid any non-essential mountain travel this weekend if at all possible,” said CHP Officer Chris Patton, a 17-year veteran stationed in Truckee. “Conditions will quickly become treacherous. Our officers will be working around the clock to keep major routes like I-80 open, but this storm has the potential to cause extremely hazardous driving conditions.”

Patton and hundreds of other CHP personnel across the Sierra are bracing for one of the most impactful storms in recent memory. Patrol vehicles are being equipped with snow chains, emergency supplies like food and water, and other provisions to aid stranded motorists. Extra tow trucks are also being deployed along mountain highways in anticipation of an increase in spin-outs and accidents.

But even the most seasoned Sierra drivers can find themselves in a life-threatening situation when blizzard conditions set in. That’s why the CHP is pleading with the public to avoid venturing into the mountains until the storm moves out early next week.

“We’ve seen too many tragedies occur when people underestimate how rapidly conditions can deteriorate during an extreme winter storm like this one,” Patton said. “If at all possible, our advice is to stay home, stay safe and avoid mountain roads until the worst of it passes.”

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Whiteout Conditions Expected

The cause of the impending blizzard is an atmospheric river – essentially a pipeline of deep tropical moisture – aimed squarely at Northern California and western Nevada. Up to 5 inches of rain is predicted in the valleys around Reno and Sacramento this weekend. But it’s the phenomenal snow totals forecast for higher elevations that have officials concerned.

Total accumulations of 5 to locally 10 feet are predicted above 7,000 feet in elevation. The high Sierra around Lake Tahoe, Donner Pass, Carson Pass and Ebbetts Pass are forecast to measure the deepest snow, with over 130 inches possible on ridge tops by the time the storm winds down Sunday.

“We’re looking at no exaggeration 2 to 3 feet of snow per day, especially Friday night into Saturday when the heaviest snow bands set up,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Johnston. “And we’re expecting thundersnow as well, with lightning and thunder accompanying the heaviest snowfall. That will make travel extremely dangerous with zero visibility and instantly deteriorating road conditions.”

Johnston said a blizzard warning will likely be issued Friday morning across most Sierra passes above 6,000 feet. Wind gusts over 100 mph are possible on Sierra ridges, leading to whiteout conditions. Even getting snow plows on the roads will be difficult.

“Just about every major highway including I-80, Highway 50 and Highway 395 will be impacted, some potentially forced to close if conditions get bad enough,” Johnston said. “We’re strongly advising staying off the roads if you can as this will likely be a historic winter storm across the Sierra.”

CHP Storm Preparations

Officer Patton has been cautiously watching the storm forecasts ramp up over the past few days. As predictions firmed up for a potentially crippling amount of snow across Tahoe and Truckee, he knew the CHP would need to take extra precautions to keep the public and their own officers safe.

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That’s why chains are being affixed to tires on every Sierra CHP cruiser ahead of the storm’s arrival. Emergency provisions like blankets, water and non-perishable snacks are also being loaded into patrol vehicles to aid stranded drivers. And CHP aircraft that normally patrol the highways from above will be grounded once blizzard conditions develop.

“Our main goal is keeping Interstate 80 and other major Sierra highways open during the storm. But even the freeway may need to close if whiteout conditions occur,” Patton said. “We’ll still have our cruisers patrolling even if that happens just to ensure no one is trapped.”

In addition to their own patrols, the CHP is coordinating with Caltrans snowplow crews as they work around the clock to clear highway lanes. Tow trucks are being strategically staged along mountain routes to quickly aid spin-outs and accidents. Extra personnel have also been called in across the Sierra front to assist with storm preparations and emergency response.

“We’ve learned a lot of hard lessons over the years when it comes to managing extreme winter storms,” Patton said. “Our hope is through advance planning and coordination, we can keep most people off the mountain roads and keep the highways open. But with a storm this potentially epic, we need the public’s cooperation more than ever to stay safe.”

Drivers Urged to Delay Travel

For motorists planning to travel across the Sierra in the coming days, the message from CHP couldn’t be clearer: don’t do it if you can avoid it. Officials advise waiting until at least Monday after the storm moves out to cross mountain passes.

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“If you must travel, be prepared with snow chains, extra clothing, food and water,” said CHP Sgt. Randy Fisher for the Truckee-Tahoe region. “But honestly, the best choice is to delay your trip until conditions improve early next week. This storm will simply be too dangerous for most drivers.”

Fisher notes that even vehicles with four-wheel-drive or snow tires can easily get stuck or go off the road in a major blizzard. The heavy snowfall forecast will quickly overwhelm snow plowing efforts, leading to road closures. Whiteout conditions are imminent.

“Even if you’re seasoned at driving in the snow, this storm is on a different level,” Fisher said. “We’re expecting extreme impacts to travel across all Sierra passes. Please, the safest option is staying off the mountain roads until this blizzard passes.”

The atmospheric river event will start impacting the Sierra as early as Thursday night. But the heaviest snow is predicted from Friday evening through Saturday night, when snowfall rates could exceed 3 inches per hour.

While the snow will start tapering off on Sunday, another weaker storm is forecast to bring additional light snowfall early next week. In all, the Sierra snowpack could grow by up to 5 feet over this 7-day period – a potentially historic snow event to close out winter.

“We’re doing everything we can to prepare,” Patton said. “But the public has an important role to play too by avoiding Sierra travel this weekend. Stay safe, stay warm and let us handle the roads until this major winter storm passes.”

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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