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Snowboarder dead in blizzard at Tahoe; avalanche warning

March 3, 2018

In this image provided by the Kirkwood Mountain Resort, fresh snow is cleared below a ski lift Friday, March 2, 2018, in Kirkwood, Calif. A blizzard warning was in effect for parts of the Sierra Nevada, where snow was piling up and travel was difficult due to repeated highway closures and the need for chains in many places. The snow will help the Sierra snowpack, which is vital to the state's water supply and has only been about a quarter of its normal depth for this time of winter. It's also a boon for skiers and snowboarders. (Kirkwood Mountain Resort via AP)

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A snowboarder was found dead Friday at a Lake Tahoe ski resort after a blizzard packing winds gusting to nearly 150 mph over the ridge tops dumped 3 feet (1 meter) of snow in the mountains, shutting down area highways, canceling school in Reno and closing state offices throughout northern Nevada.

With another foot (30 cm) of snow in the forecast into Saturday, an avalanche warning was posted throughout the Tahoe backcountry and in neighborhoods on the lake’s north shore along the California-Nevada line.

A blizzard warning expired Friday but whiteout conditions were still possible around Lake Tahoe, where a winter storm warning remained in effect until 10 a.m. Saturday, the National Weather Service said.

The Placer County Sheriff’s Office identified the dead snowboarder as 42-year-old Wenyu Zhang of Rocklin, California. His body was located by Squaw Valley Ski Patrol members after friends reported him missing late Thursday night at about the same time a 146 mph (235 mph) wind gust was reported at the top of the resort south of Truckee, California.

The search was suspended overnight due to high avalanche danger but resumed at daybreak Friday. The effort was aided by a tracking program at the resort that reads a computer chip or reflector attached to clothing, boots or helmets.

Zhang was wearing a helmet when he was found. His death has not been determined, the sheriff said.

Interstate 80, which was closed several hours on Thursday, reopened Friday morning but chains or snow tires were required from west of the California-Nevada line across the top of the Sierra, and on all major mountain passes.

“Strong winds will cause whiteout conditions in blowing and drifting snow at times,” the Weather Service in Reno said Friday. “Avoid travel if possible. You could be stuck in your vehicle for many hours.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval ordered all state offices in the northern half of the state closed Friday due to the inclement weather from Reno east to the Utah line.

Four feet (120 cm) had already fallen early Friday at Mammoth Mountain south of Yosemite National Park. Three feet (90 cm) of snow was measured at the Kirkwood resort south of Lake Tahoe and at the Mount Rose ski resort on the southwest edge of Reno.

Washoe County’s Emergency Management division in Reno said no evacuations were required when it issued the avalanche warning for Tahoe’s north shore late Friday afternoon, but said pedestrians should avoid activity in subdivisions in the Crystal Bay area along Highway 28.

The weather service said another foot (30 centimeters) or more of snow is possible by Saturday at lake level. Up to 20 inches (50 cm) is forecast in the upper elevations.

Up to 6 inches (15 cm) of snow fell in the Reno area, which remains under a winter weather advisory until 10 a.m. Saturday. An 82 mph (132 kph) gust of wind was recorded Thursday on the west edge of Reno near Verdi.

The biggest storm of the season prompted one area ski resort to postpone a ceremony planned Saturday to celebrate the accomplishments of several Lake Tahoe-area Olympians just back from the Winter Games in South Korea.

Snowboarders Jamie Anderson, who won gold and silver medals, Maddie Bowman and Hannah Teter were among those scheduled to attend the daylong event at Sierra-at-Tahoe south of the lake.

The weather system was making its way east toward Utah Friday evening. A winter storm warning continues Saturday in northeast Nevada along U.S. Interstate 80 until 4 p.m. and further south until 7 p.m. along U.S. Highway 50 where more than a foot (30 cm) of snow is expected at Great Basin National Park on the Utah line.

In Utah, the National Weather Service posted storm warnings through late Sunday morning for the Great Salt Lake Desert, Cache Valley and Wasatch Front. Forecasters predicted snowfall amounts of up to 1 foot (30 cm) in Cache Valley, up to 20 inches (50 cm) in the Wasatch Mountains and western Uinta Mountains, and localized amounts topping 2 feet (60 cm) in some places.

The Utah Avalanche Center warned of avalanche danger Friday near Logan, Ogden, Salt Lake, Provo, Skyline and the Uintas, and moderate danger near Moab and Abajo.

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