Blizzard in Lake Tahoe snarls traffic, raises fear of avalanches

Several feet of snow have fallen around Lake Tahoe and other parts of the Sierra Nevada range in what has turned into one of the biggest storms in years.

Authorities have issued an avalanche warning due to the heavy accumulation of snow and also shut a stretch of Interstate 80, which cuts through the mountains to Nevada, because of accidents on the freeway.

In the peaks around the ski resorts of Lake Tahoe, there was fresh snow piled up 57 inches high on Thursday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Reno. Taller mountains elsewhere in the Sierra received up to 76 inches of powder, the NWS said.

Another four to 10 inches might fall near Lake Tahoe before a winter storm watch expires Friday at 4 a.m. Locations above 7,000 feet in elevation may see 10 to 18 inches of additional snowfall, the NWS said.

The storm produced treacherous conditions for drivers that resulted in "multiple spin outs," according to the California Highway Patrol.

The CHP closed I-80 at Colfax in the eastbound direction, making it difficult for would-be skiers and riders to reach Tahoe resorts from Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. The westbound direction of I-80 was closed at the Nevada state line, the CHP also said.

An avalanche warning has been issued for backcountry areas around Lake Tahoe too. Gale-force winds added to fears that mounds of snow could break loose suddenly.

"Large and destructive avalanches involving the new snow and the existing snowpack could occur," the weather service said.

In the town of Truckee, which is popular with outdoor enthusiasts, firefighters rescued a teen who’d been buried by snow that fell from the roof of a house.

Authorities set off blasts in an attempt to control avalanches in the mountains.

Until this storm hit and yielded abundant winter precipitation, forecasters had worried about the lack of snow in the mouintains.

The snow survey conducted showed the Sierra snowpack was less than half what it would be in an average year. The snowpack provides about one-third of the state's water needs, melting in the spring and filling reservoirs.