Portions of I-80 closed near Sierra

January 4, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
A massive winter storm pounded the Sierra and northern Nevada on Friday, creating treacherous driving conditions in the mountains and prompting state officials to warn truckers hundreds of miles away to park where they are and stay put.

The rain here, obviously, means snow in the Sierra. And you can't get there from here -- at least not on interstate 80.

I-80 is closed in both directions tonight from Applegate, in the foothills, to the Nevada state line because visibility is so poor.

In winter, I-80 to Tahoe is normally packed on a Friday night with either skiers or snowboarders, but not on Friday night. Hardly any cars are out tonight because it is just too dangerous to go into higher elevations.

Lake Tahoe is under a blizzard warning. A monster storm pounded the Sierra all day; the second of three back-to-back systems.

It's no fun to be in it.

Kelly Bertholf, Traveler: "Cold, still snowing, raining. Some hail."

ABC7's Nannette Miranda: "You had everything!"

Kelly Bertholf: "Yeah, and a lot of wind."

The hurricane force winds could reach up to 150 miles per hour in some spots. That prompted the National Weather Service to issue a rare blizzard warning in California.

"The main concern when we have a blizzard warning is the winds. They are so strong that it makes visibility a white out," said NWS Meteorologist Felix Garcia.

The heaviest snowfall is expected overnight when snow could pile up at the rate of six inches an hour. Up to five feet of snow might fall above 7,000 feet.

Even before that, driving conditions were so treacherous Nevada authorities warned truckers from as far away as Wyoming heading to the West Coast to hunker down way before.

CalTrans and CHP are amazed how drivers heeded the warning to stay away. Look how empty Interstate 80 is on a Friday.

One count late this morning along Interstate 80 estimated 200 vehicles passing per hour. The usual is 1,500 to 3,000 per hour.

You won't find resident Mel Neal on the road during the storm. He's stocked up on DVD's. His freezer is full of meat and his pantry has enough canned goods to last two weeks.

"Hunker down. Wait until it's over. Don't go to town. It's life threatening when it gets like this. It's not just inconvenience," said Neal.

In Truckee, that promised snow held off for most of the day, and melted some of what they did have -- but then made up for lost time.

By mid-afternoon it was practically a white-out, with flakes falling on slush, and then turning to ice. At a local hardware store, people stocked up.

It is expected to get so bad that the town of Truckee between here and Tahoe is asking the American Red Cross to set up an emergency shelter for stranded motorists.


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