Snow is a familiar sight to any trucker that‘s plied Interstate 80 that links Nevada and Northern California over the gorgeous Sierra Nevada mountain range. But this year‘s storms give the word ‘snow‘ a whole new meaning.
(Snowfall in Tahoe by Mike Kilcarr)
The storms hitting the Donner pass this year (yes, THAT Donner pass - the infamous place where pioneers trapped by winter‘s icy clutches resorted to cannibalism to stay alive) are dumping boatloads of the white stuff up there - over 12 feet of snow now packs the slopes in and around Lake Tahoe now.
(The snow may be deep -- but Amelia the dog doesn't mind)
The scary thing is the real heavy snow cycle for the Sierra range hasn‘t hit yet. This weekend alone the forecasters are predicting another foot of snow and wind velocities exceeding 100 mph in some spots in the mountains. None of that makes driving a tractor-trailer over the I-80 gap much fun, I‘d think.
(When it takes front loaders to remove the snow, you know it's deep)
My brother lives out there, so I get a pretty frequent update on the snow as well as the ski conditions. (Nothing like being a single, dedicated skiing fanatic, with deep powder as far as the eye can see. Talk about luck of the Irish!) He sends a lot of photos back to me of what the area looks like under 12 feet of snow - and talks about the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) staffers that must clear it day in and day out.
(Amelia takes a walk in her own winter wonderland)
Caltrans has a big depot right at the crest of I-80, next door to the town of Truckee, home base for all the big orange equipment needed to keep the roads clear. I‘ve passed by it many a time (in much more agreeable weather!) wondering at the hardiness of the folks manning it that must venture forth in some truly nasty conditions to keep the highways passable. At some points this year, the snow fell at a rate of six inches per HOUR, which is just an unfathomable amount for me to get my brain around.
(All in a wintry days work for the local Caterpillar operator)
This year, the challenge‘s been to find a place to dump all the snow, for they are running out of room in the Tahoe area. Route 89 - also known as West Rive Road - snakes from I-80 south in Lake Tahoe along the Truckee river, graced by high alpine vistas of stone and pine trees. Now it resembles something more like an ice canyon, with walls of snow bordering it from the highway down to the lake shore - not something a big rig driver looks forward to navigating, I am sure.
(Even the local roads are canyons cut from the snowfields now)
So props to Caltrans for keeping the roads clear out there - and good luck to the truckers out there driving in those tricky conditions. While it sure looks pretty in the pictures, it‘s not something I‘d want to pilot an 80,000-pound rig through, let me tell you!
(Ah, but it's postcard picture perfect, all that snow, isn't it? A big shout out of thanks to my brother for these shots, by the way.)