Predictions for the most significant storm of the winter so far — and for the most foothill snow since 2011 — have prompted Mother Lode shoppers to stock up on batteries, canned goods and bottled water, as well as heaters, fuel and kindling.
Before the cold, wet weather system was expected to arrive in full force tonight, forecasters billed the approaching three-day storm pattern as a beast capable of bringing up to 10 feet of snow to the highest reaches of Calaveras and Tuolumne counties by Saturday evening.
Twain Harte and other towns above 3,500 feet could get 2.5 feet to 4.5 feet of snow by Saturday.
Foothill residents who live and travel between the 1,500-foot and 2,000-foot elevations can expect morning rain to change to snow late Thursday through early Friday. If forecasts are correct, foothill communities could see 1 foot to 1.5 feet of snow.
Vegetables that can spoil fast were big sellers earlier this week at the lower Save Mart in Sonora, acting produce manager Evon Robin said Wednesday.
“Every storm we notice across the board it gets busier and we sell more of everything,” Robin said. “Even yesterday we sold more produce than normal, especially perishables like mushrooms, cilantro and leaf lettuce.”
Robin said the grocery store had no shortages so far, and they do not expect to run out of anything during the storm because they get truck deliveries six days a week. Robin emphasized the refrigerator truck drivers who restock stores in Sonora know the weather and they always carry chains.
Heaters moving fast
“We’ve sold quite a few heaters, kerosene, propane and electric,” Kurt Bartells, a floor salesman at Ace Sonora Lumber on South Washington Street, said Wednesday.
“We already sold out of the oil-filled radiators,” said Tim Daley, another floor salesman.
Other big sellers at the hardware store this week have included plastic tarps, kerosene and bags of Ice Melt. Bartells pointed at a shelf where the last 2.5-gallon jug of Kerosene 1-K Heater Fuel was left.
“We’ve sold some snow shovels this week, too,” Diana Verkuyl, floor manager at Ace Sonora Lumber, said between helping customers and talking on the phone. “We’ll be getting in more heaters and kerosene.”
Across the street at the Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, a store manager said it’s been busy. The store was crowded with people pushing large shopping carts laden with groceries including canned goods. In spite of the extra business, the manager said he’d noticed no shortages on any items so far.
At Safeway off Sanguinetti Road, store director Jeff Hampton stood near busy cash registers and took time between helping customers and employees to talk about what’s selling fast. He said the approaching storm and forecasts were bringing more shoppers to the store.
“That’s why it’s so busy today,” Hampton said Wednesday. “People are buying batteries, canned foods, bottled water. Flashlights too.”
Hampton also emphasized Safeway staff have no fear of running out of groceries or missing deliveries if snowfall blankets Sonora, because the store’s delivery truck drivers carry chains.
‘Bring it on!’
Outside in the Safeway parking lot, Laurie Cashman, of Pinecrest, pushed a loaded grocery cart with her 4-year-old grandson, Carter Hard, hanging on.
“We’re stocking up for the storm,” said Cashman, who is also manager at Pinecrest Lake Resort. “I usually come down to shop every couple weeks, and I figure today is the day. It’s supposed to storm tonight. We’re supposed to get a lot of snow up the hill.”
Cashman said she’s happy about the weather forecasts because Dodge Ridge is going to reopen Friday.
“We really need the snow and the water,” Cashman said. “Bring it on!”
Cashman’s daughter, Heidi Lupo, owner of Heidi’s Ski Shop on Highway 108 in Cold Springs, said she and Carter’s little brother, Colton Hard, 15 months old, are excited about the coming storm.
“We’re optimistic that the forecasts are correct,” Lupo said. “And we’ll get some snow.”
“Caltrans always does an awesome job on the roads,” Cashman said. “So come on up.”
A winter storm warning is in effect for most of Calaveras and Tuolumne counties from 4 p.m. Wednesday to 10 p.m. Saturday. Along the highest, easternmost edges of Tuolumne County, including Sonora Pass and further southeast, the winter storm warning transitions to a blizzard warning in Mono County.
Forecasters say travel will be extremely difficult to impossible in some mountain areas during the storm. Winds may gust to 65 miles per hour at higher mountain locations, and blowing snow is expected to significantly reduce visibility for anyone outside in the mountains.
Chris Baker, the Long Barn-area maintenance supervisor for Caltrans District 10, said he and his crew are ready for whatever the approaching storm brings. Long Barn is about 5,000 feet in elevation, east and up the hill from Mi-Wuk Village and Twain Harte.
“Material-wise, we’ve gone ahead and stocked our sand sheds all the way back up,” Baker said Wednesday. “We have 350 tons of sand up here, and we’re waiting for another 200 tons in Soulsbyville.”
Baker said he plans to have six heavy-equipment operators driving during the day Thursday, Friday and Saturday, “and maybe into Sunday. We’ll see how the storm plays out.”
For moving snow, Baker said he has a couple loaders, a couple graders, five plow trucks and at least one snow blower if necessary. Two of the plow trucks have wing blades on them, so they’re capable of moving twice as much snow when necessary.
As of Wednesday afternoon, closure gates on Highway 108 were locked at Sno-Park east of Strawberry, Baker said.
“Probably a foot of snow on the road behind the gate and going east,” Baker said. “West of the gate the road is clear and looking good, no chains required.”
Baker urged motorists to stay off the roads if possible during the heaviest snowfall spells and through the duration of the storm if possible.
“We have the equipment to take care of it,” Baker said. “The biggest part is the public can help, if they stay home and let us get the roads clear, that’s a good thing. If they come out and get stuck or worse, that can cause issues, slows down what we do.”
Caltrans plow drivers and other heavy-equipment operators are using gear that can keep them warm in below freezing, blizzard conditions, including insulated gloves, hard hats, protective glasses, and insulated reflective jackets and parkas with liners, Baker said.
Caltrans personnel at other foothill and mountain maintenance yards, including Camp Connell east of Calaveras Big Trees State Park on Highway 4 and at Coulterville on Highway 49, are planning to have extra workers out on night shifts and extra plow trucks at lower elevations, said Warren Alford with Caltrans District 10 in Stockton.
“Preparedness is key,” Alford said. “If people don’t have to be out please try to stay home and give Chris and his guys some room.”
Tracie Riggs, assistant administrator and Office of Emergency Services coordinator with Tuolumne County, put out an announcement Wednesday advising the approaching storm has potential to cause “flooding, mudslides, downed trees and widespread power outages.”
Riggs urged residents to reduce or eliminate unnecessary travel during the storm, and to have emergency supplies on hand including sandbags, prescription medications, food and water, flashlights, battery-operated radios, battery-operated lanterns, batteries and a phone that plugs directly into the wall.
Tree mortality in some areas could mean a lot of limbs and trees will come down when winds pick up, Riggs said. If trees and power lines come down, they are not to be approached or touched by anyone other than trained utility workers or other public safety personnel.
People in Tuolumne County are also urged to check on neighbors who have special needs during the storm.
Riggs also urged county residents to “prepare for alternative sources of heat” and to call 911 for emergencies only.