By CapRadio Staff
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in 13 counties Wednesday due to the blizzard that has forced avalanche evacuations, closed numerous roads and agencies and shut down Yosemite National Park.
The declaration supports disaster relief by making state agencies and aid available and asking for federal help in clearing and repairing highways. The governor announced that the state was bringing in more snow plows and road crews to help clear roads and he authorized the California National Guard to mobilize for disaster response if needed.
As of Wednesday morning, the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab near Donner Summit had recorded just over seven feet in the previous 72 hours.
Andrew Schwartz has managed the lab the last two years and said he's never seen anything like it, and that it isn't just the numbers that tell the story.
"We have a path that goes from the front door of the facility to where we measure the snow, and that's about 50 to 60 yards away," Schwartz told CapRadio Insight host Vicki Gonzalez. "And yesterday was the first time I'd ever taken a misstep where I sink in about five-and-a-half to six feet; to the point where it was concerning about actually being able to walk out there safely on my snowshoes."
The snow lab is well over 100 inches above its seasonal average for this time of year.
The Sierra has also experienced blizzard conditions prompting the temporary closure of a number of freeways including Interstate 80 and Highway 50.
Yosemite remains closed after the storm dumped at least 7 feet of new snow into the national park.
The closure started Saturday and it’s uncertain when conditions will allow it to reopen. All visitors had to leave the park and the only people currently allowed access are park employees.
A Facebook post by the Mono County Sheriff’s Office put it bluntly:
"The roads are closed. All of them. There is no alternate route, back way, or secret route. It's a blizzard, people," the post reads. "You cannot see your hand in front of your face, let alone a snow stake to guide your way. Stay home. Or wherever you are if you aren't home (and if you're somewhere you shouldn't be, you'll have to sort that out with your significant other - we told you to make good choices).”
Conditions in Tuolumne County are much the same, with snow and freezing rain which forced a closure of all county offices.
Freezing temperatures are expected to continue through the week, and a freeze warning is in effect for much of the San Joaquin Valley through Friday morning.
There is so much snow that some ski resorts, including Bear Valley and Dodge Ridge, have had to close temporarily. Other resorts, like Sugar Bowl and Heavenly in the Tahoe area, have scaled back operations to dig out ski lifts covered in snow.
In Placer County’s Olympic Valley, an apartment building was evacuated after an avalanche covered the bottom two floors, though no one was injured, according to the Placer County Sheriff's Office. As of Thursday morning all evacuation orders and warnings for the area were lifted, though residents can't return to the building until inspections are completed.
In San Bernardino County east of Los Angeles, around-the-clock plowing is underway but it could take more than a week to reach some areas, said Dawn Rowe, chair of the county’s board of supervisors. Residents are dealing with as much as 7 feet of snow, and sheriffs’ authorities have conducted 17 rescue operations to help off-roaders and skiers. Emergency crews are trying to reach residents who need assistance.
Schwartz with UC Berkeley said statewide, the snowpack is at 166% of our April 1 average.
"That April 1 measurement is the most important because that's when our snowpack is traditionally the deepest and that's the measurement we use to determine how much water we'll have for the upcoming year," he said. “So, we're already at 166% of that a month ahead of schedule which is phenomenal."
The California Department of Water Resources on Friday will conduct its third snow survey of the year at Phillips Station west of Lake Tahoe. The Feb. 1 measurement was already at 205% of average due to the nine atmospheric rivers that brought lots of rain and snow in late December and early January.
While a break in the weather arrived Wednesday, it's not going to last long as the next round of rain and snow is forecasted to arrive Saturday. The weather service has issued a winter storm warning for much of the Sierra, noting that heavy snow and possible travel issues could be possible between Saturday and Monday morning.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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