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I-80 near Tahoe closed indefinitely, ski resorts shut, more snow forecast for the Sierra

A person in winter gear shovels heavy snow engulfing a vehicle amidst a snowfall.
Jake Coleman digs out his car along North Lake Boulevard as snow continues to fall in Tahoe City on Saturday. | Source: Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP

A major highway was closed and ski resorts were shut down Sunday as the effects of a powerful blizzard continued to cause problems across the Sierra Nevada, and forecasters warned that more heavy snow was on the way for Northern California.

Sections of Interstate 80 to the west and north of Lake Tahoe were made impassable by blowing snow piling up in lanes, with no estimate for reopening, the California Highway Patrol said.

The CHP office in South Lake Tahoe warned motorists that tire chains for improved traction are required on routes through the mountains, where more than 7 feet of snow fell over the weekend. The online warning Sunday was accompanied by a photo of a big rig without chains stuck in whiteout conditions on a local road.

Man standing in knee deep snow shovels snow in front of yellow tractor
Luis Apolinar attempts to dig out his vehicle as snow falls during a powerful winter storm in Truckee on Saturday. | Source: Mario Tama/Getty Images

“Trying to bypass chain control, no no no!!” the agency said on X, formerly Twitter. “Dangerous and not smart.”

A blizzard warning was in effect until midnight for some areas above 6,500 feet, while lower elevations were under a winter storm warning with another 2 feet of snow possible, the National Weather Service office in Sacramento said. “Mountain travel is HIGHLY discouraged!” the office warned.

The multiday storm caused traffic backups and closures on I-80 and many other roadways, shut down ski resorts and left thousands of homes and businesses without power.

By Sunday evening, Pacific Gas & Electric had restored electricity to all but about 4,800 Northern California customers, while NV Energy had reduced its outages to roughly 1,000 homes and businesses across the state line in Nevada.

Palisades Tahoe, the largest resort on the north end of the lake and site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, was among several ski mountains that closed most or all chairlifts for a second straight day Sunday because of snow, wind and low visibility. Palisades reported a three-day snow total of 6 feet, with more falling.

“We will be digging out for the foreseeable future,” officials said on the resort’s blog.

Kevin Dupui, who lives in Truckee, just northwest of Lake Tahoe, said his snow blower broke, but it doesn’t really matter because there’s nowhere to put all the snow anyway. “We just move it around,” he said Sunday.

Three people are walking in heavy snow, with trees heavily laden with snow overhead.
Andy and Anna Kennerley walk with their sons Moe, 6, and Van, 4, as they head back to their home in downtown Truckee on Saturday. | Source: Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP

Dupui said residents and tourists seem to be mostly heeding warnings to stay home. “The roads haven’t been that safe, so we don’t really want people driving around,” he said.

Another Truckee resident, Jenelle Potvin, said at first some cynical locals thought “there was a little too much hype” made about the approaching storm. But then the unrelenting snow began Friday night.

“It was definitely a blizzard. And we woke up to a lot of snow yesterday, and it never let up,” Potvin said Sunday. Her neighbors were snowmobiling and cross-country skiing in the streets. “But, yeah, we went from 0 to 100 pretty fast.”

In the eastern Sierra, the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area was closed Sunday as winds of up to 70 mph made it too difficult for ski patrol to complete avalanche mitigation, the resort said. More than 3 feet of snow fell over three days, and more was on the way.

Weather service meteorologist William Churchill on Saturday called the storm an “extreme blizzard” for the Sierra Nevada but said he didn’t expect records to be broken.

The storm began barreling into the region Thursday. A widespread blizzard warning through Sunday morning covered a 300-mile stretch of the mountains. A second, weaker storm was forecast to bring additional rain and snow between Monday and Wednesday, forecasters said.

California authorities on Friday shut down 100 miles of I-80, the main route between Reno and Sacramento, because of “spin outs, high winds, and low visibility.” There was no estimate when the freeway would reopen from the California-Nevada border west of Reno to near Emigrant Gap, California.

Rudy Islas spent about 40 minutes shoveling his car out before heading to work at a coffee shop in Truckee on Sunday morning. Neither he nor his customers were fazed by the snow, he said.

“To be honest, if you’re a local, it’s not a big deal,” he said. “I think a lot of people are used to the snow and they prepare for it.”

Rachel Scheier contributed reporting.