January 24, 2022

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Tahoe’s record snowfall has officials warning everyone to stay away – San Francisco Chronicle

3 min read

The highways leading to Lake Tahoe reopened after record Sierra snowfall closed them for days. But highway officials, political leaders and even tourism and business associations are urging visitors to stay away from the iconic region — at least for another day or two.

More than 6 feet of snow fell over the past week at lake level, with at least twice as much at Tahoe ski resorts and mountain passes. The heavy snowfall, believed to be the most in December in more than 50 years, closed both Highway 50 and Interstate 80, the main routes between the Bay Area and Lake Tahoe.

While the highways were cleared enough to allow passage for vehicles outfitted with chains or snow tires, conditions were still treacherous, authorities caution, snowplows are everywhere. Spinouts and jack-knifed tractor-trailers have led to temporary closures on both Interstate 80 and Highway 50 — and traffic was slow.

Gasoline was also reportedly in short supply in some of the towns en route to Tahoe. In town, gas was available but not everywhere Wednesday, and some stores and restaurants remain closed because employees can’t get to work. Shelves at some supermarkets are a little picked over since deliveries have been been delayed, and not all streets and roads are plowed.

South Lake Tahoe officials reported that several stations in town were either closed or out of gas and said they were conducting a survey so they could advise residents and visitors. Many stations that received deliveries quickly sold out.

“I would really caution everybody to delay their travel plans, only travel that is absolutely essential right now,” said Lindsey Baker, spokesperson for the city of South Lake Tahoe. “Allow us to work on clearing the roads and providing essential services. Once we accomplish that, we encourage people to come up. Right now, you are not going to have the best experience.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Gavin Newsom activated his Office of Emergency Services to help coordinate the response to the winter storms.

Snow was still falling on Wednesday afternoon around the lake but was expected to taper off overnight and give way to partly cloudy skies on Thursday, starting four days of snow-free weather. Snow is back in the forecast for Monday.

Highway 50 reopened Monday night then closed for several hours Tuesday morning after multiple collisions and a jack-knifed big rig. Interstate 80 eastbound reopened at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, but the westbound highway, headed to the Bay Area, didn’t reopen until 8:45 p.m.

That sent many travelers, stuck for days on the north side of the lake through Nevada, to South Lake Tahoe, where they crowded onto Highway 50. Traffic was so congested, Caltrans reported some drivers took more than 10 hours to get out of South Lake Tahoe to Placerville, said spokesperson Raquel Borrayo.

“It was kind of crazy,” she said.

In South Lake Tahoe, the region’s busiest city, many stores and restaurants were closed as the heavy snowfall left many employees stuck inside their houses and unable to get to work, said Carol Chaplin, president and CEO of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. Conditions seemed to be easing, and roads getting cleared, on Wednesday.

“This is a really dynamic situation,” she said. “Hopefully, tomorrow travel will be easier and good things will happen. Everyone is looking forward to tomorrow — and a break.”

Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: mcabanatuan@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @ctuan

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