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Avalanche buries mountain highway between Reno, Lake Tahoe

Avalanche buries mountain highway between Reno, Lake Tahoe

RENO, Nev. — Another winter storm dumped record-breaking rain on Reno and pummeled the Sierra Nevada with 3 feet of snow on Tuesday, triggering an avalanche that buried a major highway near Lake Tahoe.

Up to another foot of snow was possible overnight with winds gusting up to 100 mph over the ridgetops above Lake Tahoe, where a winter storm warning remained in effect until 4 a.m. Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.

Flood watches and warnings continued into Wednesday along the Sierra's eastern front along the California line north of Reno and across much of northern Nevada along the Interstate 80 corridor from Winnemucca to Elko. In Elko County, gusty winds ahead of the cold front topped 65 mph near Jarbidge along the Idaho line and Great Basin National Park on the Utah line.

No injuries were reported but the storm snarled traffic during the Tuesday morning commute in Reno and Sparks, and forced the closure of Interstate 80 over the top of the Sierra in whiteout conditions. Two motorists had to be rescued from stalled vehicles in high water Tuesday morning after they drove around barriers near the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno.

More than 4 feet of new snow was recorded Monday night and Tuesday at the Mount Rose ski resort southwest of Reno, where a record 52 feet of snow has fallen this season.

"The conditions are fierce," said CalTrans area superintendent Dave Wood, who was helping crews respond to a series of spinouts Tuesday on I-80 near Donner Pass west of Truckee, California. The interstate opened for a few hours at midday, but was closed in both directions again Tuesday evening west of Reno. Tire chains were mandatory on any highways that remained open over the mountain passes.

Nearly an inch of rain (.91) fell Tuesday at Reno-Tahoe International Airport, breaking the old record of .75 set in 1936 on the heels of a record 1.05 inches Monday, the weather service said. Reno has already received more rain since Jan. 1 than it normally does in an entire year — more than 8.6 inches compared to the annual average of 7.4.

The Mount Rose Highway connecting Reno to Lake Tahoe remained closed after an avalanche sent a wall of snow 20 feet deep cascading down onto the highway about 9:15 p.m. Monday.

Avalanche warnings continued into Wednesday for much of the Sierra. Officials at Liberty Utilities said that threat slowed crews' response to hundreds of power outages west and north of Tahoe on Tuesday.

The immediate threat of significant flooding subsided late Tuesday around Reno and Carson City as well as rural counties to the south and east.

The weather service lifted a flash flood warning in the rural town of Dayton east of Carson City where emergency managers had raised concerns about a stormwater holding pond overflowing.

In the warning issued shortly after 12:35 p.m., the service urged residents to evacuate low-lying areas because the failure of the pond's earthen dam was "imminent" and could send 2 to 4 feet of water flowing into a nearby neighbourhood.

But Lyon County Manager Jeff Page told The Associated Press Tuesday night that no evacuations were ordered and there was no threat to the 40 or 50 homes in that area southwest of U.S. Highway 50 on the east side of town.

"We had water go over the top of the retention basin, but nothing like in January," he said about last month's flood waters that caused in excess of $5 million damage to area roads. "Overall, it went well."


Associated Press writer Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

Scott Sonner, The Associated Press