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Fierce storm continues in Sierra, dumps up to 8 feet of snow

December 23, 1996

RENO, Nev. (AP) _ The Sierra Nevada got a second day of near record snowfall Sunday, bringing weekend accumulations to as much as 8 feet and closing highways through the mountains between California and Nevada.

Interstate 80 reopened late Sunday afternoon after being closed much of Sunday, but traffic was backed up for miles in both directions over the Donner pass. U.S. 50 was closed for a second day across Echo Summit, the California Highway Patrol said.

The two highways connect Sacramento, Calif., to the Reno-Tahoe area.

``The snowplows can’t keep up with the amount of snow coming down,″ said patrol dispatcher Marsha Iverson in Truckee, Calif., along I-80 about 30 miles west of Reno and at an elevation of about 6,000 feet.

Balu Sharma of San Jose, Calif., was one of hundreds of stalled travelers. He drove to South Lake Tahoe, Calif., last week planning just one day of skiing.

``I was supposed to have gone back home Friday night, but I’m still here,″ Sharma said Sunday from his Matterhorn Motel room.

Jeff Kindred of Auburn, Calif., was stranded at Truckee.

``I just hope they get it cleared and plowed soon,″ he said. ``I don’t mind waiting, but I’d like to be home by Christmas.″

However, the Reno-Tahoe International Airport remained in service Sunday. On Saturday, incoming flights had to be diverted to Las Vegas and Sacramento.

Most ski resorts on the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe had gotten 6 to 7 feet of snow since late Friday afternoon and an additional 2 feet was expected by Monday morning, the National Weather Service said.

``It’s just incredible. We knew the storm had the potential for heavy snow, but there’s no way we could have known we would get that much out of it,″ said weather service meteorologist Ray Collins in Reno.

Collins said 24-hour snowfall amounts were close to the records at some Tahoe locations, although he didn’t have exact figures. The 7 feet of new snow at Alpine Meadows included 4 feet in 24 hours, he said.

``It’s obvious this was a tremendous snow producer,″ he said. ``It’s uncommon to get this much snow in one storm, but it does happen every once in a while.″

The winter snow accumulation in the Sierra is a major source of water for much of the region. The storm had pushed the snowpack water content in the Truckee-Tahoe basin to about 167 percent of average for the season, and the south, the Carson River watershed was 181 percent of average, Collins said.

The storm was blamed for hundreds of accidents, and one traffic death on Saturday was blamed on the weather.

In addition to travelers, Tahoe residents also were getting tired of the heavy snow.

``Speaking for myself, I’m sick to death of it,″ said Little John Foggitt of South Lake Tahoe. ``It’s magnificent to look at, but it’s a big hassle for us.″

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