California: Mountain communities buried in snow after ‘biggest storm so far of the season’

Yosemite Valley sees record breaking 1m of snow while emergency crews shuttling food and medicine to stranded San Bernardino residents

Snow has engulfed mountainous regions of California in the past week, shutting down long stretches of roadways, closing Yosemite National Park and burying many communities.

The extreme weather forced Yosemite to close Saturday, initially for a few days and now indefinitely. Structures in the park and rangers’ homes remain encased in deep snow, and power is intermittent, said Scott Gediman, a park ranger and spokesperson.

Higher-elevation areas of the park have recently recorded as much as 4m of snow, while 1m accumulated on Tuesday alone in Yosemite Valley, breaking a record of 36 inches set in 1969, Mr Gediman said.

Farther north, a critical stretch of Interstate 80 that cuts across northern Sierra Nevada from Applegate to the Nevada border was closed for days because of the snow and poor visibility before it partly reopened Wednesday afternoon.


Some parts of California are facing particularly dangerous conditions. In the San Bernardino Mountains, communities have been deluged with 2.1m of snow and emergency crews have been shuttling food and medicine to stranded residents.

In Olympic Valley, northwest of Tahoe City, an avalanche crashed into a three-story apartment building Tuesday evening, though all occupants safely evacuated, according to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office.

Brandon Schwartz, the lead avalanche forecaster at the Sierra Avalanche Center, said that instability – the greatest factor – peaked late Tuesday and has since subsided. An additional storm is expected to bring at least a foot of snow to the valley floor of the Lake Tahoe area this weekend, Mr Schwartz added.

California’s major ski resorts benefited from the recent storms, at least once the snowfall took a break. Numerous spots shut down on Tuesday, including Palisades Tahoe and Alpine Meadows. Palisades has seen 3.6m of snow in the past week and more than 12.7m of snow this season, said Patrick Lacey, a public relations manager.

“This has definitely been the biggest storm so far of the season,” he said. “In the High Sierra, it comes all at once. It’s pretty insane to see this amount of snow.”

At Donner Pass, the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab has recorded 3.6m in the past seven days and 13.4m so far this season. While the recent snowfall has been significant, it pales in comparison to the station’s all-time snowiest season, 1951-52, during which it recorded more than 20.4m of snow, lead scientist and manager Andrew Schwartz said.

Still, conditions in the area remain treacherous, with many back roads buried under 1.5-2m of snow, said Mr Schwartz, who lives in Soda Springs.

“It really comes down to being able to hunker down and get through it because there’s absolutely no way that anybody can travel right now with conditions like these,” he said.

The recent heavy snowfall will also help ameliorate the state’s short-term drought conditions, Mr Schwartz said. But California will need more than one season of exceptional snowfall to offset its drought.

“Though this has been an incredible year,” he said, “we still probably need another one to two years of above-average conditions to really get us out of the long-term drought as well.” – This article originally appeared in The New York Times.