All of Lake Tahoe at risk of ‘widespread avalanche activity’

A “very likely” avalanche warning has been issued for all of the towns, ski resorts and major roads around Lake Tahoe, just one day into the four-day rain- and snowstorm pummeling the Sierra Nevada. 

The Sierra Avalanche Center issued a Level 4 (High) avalanche warning early Friday morning, cautioning against travel anywhere near avalanche terrain.

“Widespread avalanche activity is expected to occur with heavy loading of the snowpack from rain and high intensity snowfall,” the center wrote. Avalanches that are rated as large or very large — one tier below historic — are “very likely” due to the combination of strong winds and layers of wet snow on top of less dense, less stable snow.

The Sierra Avalanche Center warning joins one the National Weather Service issued yesterday for the Tahoe region, alerting residents and visitors that strong wind, rain and heavy snowfall will “lead to widespread avalanche activity in the mountains. Large avalanches could occur in a variety of areas and elevations,” adding, “HIGH avalanche danger is expected in the mountains.” 

Several ski resorts have now closed in light of the extreme weather conditions. Palisades Resort in Olympic Valley announced that it would be closed Friday, citing “high avalanche danger and flooding on Olympic Valley Road and Alpine Meadows Road” and wind speeds of 139 mph on the resort’s ridgeline, a speed usually associated with Category 4 hurricanes. 

Heavenly Resort in South Lake Tahoe preemptively announced a Friday closure on Thursday, pointing to increased dangers like “ice on the roads, rime ice on lifts, operational difficulties, and overall dangerous conditions.” Conditions include the potential for downed trees, flooding at lower elevations and more.

Kirkwood Mountain, Northstar California, Sugar Bowl, Diamond Peak and Sierra-at-Tahoe resorts have all closed as well. 

Highway 50 near Lake Tahoe temporarily closed to clear an avalanche, Caltrans said, and heavy rain and flooding have already caused extensive evacuations and road closures in lower-lying areas of Northern California.

In early March, an avalanche slammed into a building near Palisades Tahoe, forcing an emergency evacuation. The current storm comes on the heels of a blizzard that dropped up to 12 feet of snow on parts of the Sierra Nevada, setting snowfall records not seen since the early 1970s.

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