Mid-day snow wreaks road havoc, closes schools in Nevada County (VIDEO) | TheUnion.com

Mid-day snow wreaks road havoc, closes schools in Nevada County (VIDEO)

Photo for The Union by John Hart
John Hart | The Union

A mid-day dumping of snow, which caused dozens of traffic accidents that clogged increasingly snow-packed roadways, had ceased by late Tuesday afternoon in western Nevada County.

But evidence of the short-lived snowstorm remained.

More than three inches blanketed Grass Valley, Nevada City and surrounding areas, said Johnnie Powell, a National Weather Service forecaster in Sacramento.

“The main body of the (storm) front has come through,” Powell said. “This is a one-day event.”

Tuesday’s precipitation was originally projected to be a mild snowfall, but by noon, it was dropping heavy snow in nearly white-out conditions.

“We’ve had a lot of minor collisions blocking the roadway,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Justin Barnthouse. “It’s pretty much happening everywhere.”

Shortly after chain control restrictions were instituted at 11:15 a.m. on Highway 20 starting at Conservation Road, a plethora of road accidents popped up on the CHP’s traffic information website. On Highway 20 at Omega Road, a big rig jackknifed at approximately 11:42 p.m., backing up traffic, which was reportedly diverted to Interstate 80, according the CHP website.

“Snow is coming down good,” a description of the incident stated on the CHP website.

Highway 49 at Cement Hill Road was closed down at 12:25 p.m. because of icy conditions. It had reopened before the evening rush hour.

While the bulk of the snow dropped at an elevation around 2,000 feet, Powell said snow was reported as low as 1,700 feet. As the snow began to accumulate in the lower elevations of Grass Valley and Nevada City, traffic incidents propagated. A big rig truck jackknifed at the intersection of Loma Rica Drive and Brunswick Road shortly after noon. That incident reportedly involved nine other vehicles and blocked traffic for close to two hours.

There was also a major traffic backup after a vehicle slid out on Highway 49 near Forest Springs Drive just after 1:15 p.m.

McCourtney Road was reportedly closed temporarily because of icy conditions, according to radio dispatch traffic reports. A school bus with three child passengers reportedly slid off the roadway near Shelton Court and McCourtney Road shortly after 4 p.m. — no one was injured.

The poor road conditions prompted Nevada Joint Union High School District to release its students at 12:30 p.m. — during the peak of the snowfall.

Although Nevada County governmental buildings closed at 1 p.m., the courthouse in Nevada City remained open, according to Assistant County Executive Officer Alison Lehman.

Even with the snow subsiding, Powell said a thunderstorm could follow into the area. Davis, Red Bluff and Redding were hit with thunderstorms Tuesday afternoon.

“The whole northern region has a threat of them,” Powell said.

A tornado was reported near Red Bluff.

Powell said the storm system was isolated and was expected to clear out before Wednesday.

“After the sun goes down, this should be done,” Powell said.

However, forecasters are calling for more precipitation to hit the area Saturday, which Powell said could bring a mixture of rain and snow to Nevada County.

Higher in the Sierra

A winter weather advisory for the Truckee-Tahoe area was in effect from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service in Reno. The storm was expected to bring 4-10 inches of snow at lake level and in lower-elevation areas in Truckee. Seven to 14 inches of snow were reportedly possible above 7,000 feet.

The small storm was a welcome one for the region, which has seen dry conditions since a series of storms dumped 5 to 7 feet of snow around the December holidays. It’s been cold throughout January and February, however, allowing much of that snow to stay packed at ski resorts.

In a joint statement issued last week by NWS and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, forecasters said moisture during February is expected to stay dry. That means lower streamflows when the melt-off comes this summer unless more wet storms leave moisture in the valley.

“The next six to eight weeks will tell the final story of snowpack this winter and what the spring and summer streamflow will be,” forecasters said. “Just a few more wet storms could cause the season to finish in good shape.”

According to Natural Resource Conservation Service snow telemetry, the Lake Tahoe Basin’s snowpack is at 79 percent of average as of Friday morning.

Throughout this week, according to NWS, high temperatures in the region are forecast in the low- to mid-30s, with low temperatures dipping below 10 degrees in Truckee.

Staff Writers Jennifer Terman, Liz Kellar and The Union’s sister publication, The Sierra Sun, contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4236.

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