Snowmageddon: Winter storm causes havoc in the Mother Lode

By Union Democrat staff February 20, 2013 07:01 am

Icy road conditions early this morning caused a big rig to spin out on Highway 108 near the Yosemite Junction. Amy Alonzo Rozak / Union Democrat, Copyright 2013.
There is a road closure in effect on Highway 108 from Yosemite Junction to Montezuma Junction with a detour in place.

 Tuesday's unexpectedly strong winter storm dumped heavy snow on the Mother Lode as low as La Grange, causing massive traffic snarls, knocking out electric power to thousands of people and stranding students at area schools.

Iced over roads this morning continued to spur traffic collisions, including an early morning spin-out on Murphys Grade Road and an overturned tanker truck at Highway 108 and Yosemite Junction.

The tanker truck was reported to be overturned at 6:25 a.m. and authorities on-scene report that it continued to leak a substance, possibly fuel. No other vehicles were involved, and possible injuries were unknown.

Two cars were reported overturned about 6 a.m. at Highway 108 west of Jamestown. No injuries were reported at the time. 

The storm — which struck about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday — dropped 3 inches of snow on downtown Sonora within hours.

The effect was to bring traffic to a standstill along Washington Street, Mono Way, Stockton Road and other surface streets as unprepared motorists froze up or slid along.

California Highway Patrol officials said Tuesday afternoon that dozens of cars were either stuck in the snow or involved in accidents. Lt. Scott Clamp said somewhere between 50 to 75 vehicles either became stranded or were in collisions on Highway 49 and other nearby roadways.

The storm dumped snow at elevations far lower than the 2,400 feet forecast by the National Weather Service. Snow fell as low as La Grange and Copperopolis, and created blizzard-like conditions at higher reaches.

Twain Harte received 9 inches of snow, while Dodge Ridge Ski Area received over 3 feet just by last afternoon at its peak.

About 17 weather-related accidents were reported in Tuolumne County at the height of the storm around 4:30 p.m. There were 11 reported in Calaveras County.

Up to 100 cars were caught up in a collision and pile-up at Highway 49 and Rawhide Road near Tuttletown, CHP reported.

On Highway 4 in Calaveras County, a 13,000-pound armored transport vehicle lost control and crashed near Forest Meadows Drive, causing a 30-car pileup. 

The latter accident, compounded by continuing snowfall, halted bus service at Avery Middle School, stranding many children at the school until their parents could pick them up.

As of 6:30 p.m., a handful remained at the school, playing games to bide their time.

Sonora Elementary School canceled bus service Tuesday on Lyons Bald Mountain Road and had parents pick up their children at school.

Several schools remained closed today, including Belleview, Columbia, Curtis Creek, Long Barn, Sonora Elementary, Sonora High, Summerville High and Bret Harte High.

The storm knocked out electric service to many PG&E customers in Columbia, Jamestown, Murphys and Sonora.

In Sonora, six different outages affected up to 500 customers, according to PG&E. All hit about 4:30 p.m. Five were caused by downed power lines and the cause was unknown for the sixth. All customers were expected to get power back this morning.

In Angels Camp, a single outage affected up to 500 customers.The cause was undetermined and power was not expected to be restored until 8 a.m.

Outages affecting possibly hundreds of PG&E customers were reported in Murphys and Mountain Ranch. Power was expected to be restored by 8 and 10 a.m. respectively. 

Today through Friday, expect a complete weather about face, with clear skies and daytime high temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s.

According to the National Weather Service, the next chance of precipitation is Saturday. Snow is possible that day above Twain Harte and Arnold.