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Blustery Storm May Force Sierra Road Closures

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RENO, Nev. (AP) — A fierce storm socked the Sierra Nevada with wind gusts topping 100 mph and more than a foot of snow on Wednesday, causing power outages at Lake Tahoe, flight delays in Reno and headaches for motorists throughout the region.

Utility crews working at midday to restore power to more than 10,000 homes and businesses around South Lake Tahoe, Calif., were hampered by temporary road closures for avalanche control work on highways around the lake.

The California Highway Patrol also held traffic periodically early Wednesday along U.S. Highway 50 southwest of Tahoe due to avalanche concerns.

More than 2 feet of snow was reported over a 24-hour period at Donner Summit, near the point where U.S. Interstate 80 crosses the top of the Sierra as it connects Reno to Sacramento, Calif.

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By afternoon, chains or snow tires were required on Interstate 80 and all mountain roads. The California Highway Patrol said the snow could force the closure of parts of the interstate in the Sierra on Wednesday night.

Reno police responded to more than a dozen accidents on slippery roads before the Wednesday evening rush hour began, and at least a dozen flights were delayed a half hour or longer at Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

The National Weather Service reported that snow was falling at a rate of 1 inch per hour, with visibility reduced to less than one-quarter mile from Reno to Fernley about 30 miles to the east.

The same front brought nearly an inch of rain to the foothills southeast of Reno and a bit more than a half inch of rain to Carson City.

At least 18 inches of new snow was reported by Wednesday morning at most area ski resorts, including Northstar near Truckee, Calif., Heavenly at South Tahoe and Mount Rose near Reno.

Another 5 to 7 inches was forecast at lake level at Tahoe and 2 to 4 inches at Reno by Thursday morning.

The strongest wind gust recorded in the Sierra on Wednesday was 105 mph at 11 a.m. at Mammoth Lakes ski resort, which had received about 2 feet of snow over 24 hours in Mono County south of Tahoe, the National Weather Service said.

Wind gusts reached 106 mph near Pyramid Lake 30 miles north of Reno late Tuesday night and 95 mph at Alpine Meadows ski resort west of Tahoe.

The wind, combined with heavy snow that caused tree limbs to snap, took down a series of power lines around Tahoe overnight.

“It’s the high winds combined with the heavy, wet snow,” NV Energy spokesman Karl Walquist said. “It’s also been difficult for our linemen to get to some of the outages because there is a lot of holiday traffic.”

Smaller outages are reported around the lake, from Stateline to Tahoma on the west shore and near Tahoe City in the north.

Walquist said power was restored earlier Wednesday to 3,300 customers on the north shore between Tahoe City and Kings Beach, Calif.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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