- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

RENO, Nev. — Areas of the Sierra Nevada, famous for its paralyzing amounts of snowfall, have been hit hard this winter with steep drifts stranding an Amtrak train, knocking out the Reno airport and shutting down major highways across the mountains.

The string of moisture-laden storms has dropped up to 19 feet of snow at elevations above 7,000 feet since Dec. 28 and 6 feet at lower elevations in the Reno area. Meteorologists said it was the most snow that the Reno-Lake Tahoe area has seen since 1916.

“I’ve lived here for almost 40 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Peter Wolenta, 69, said yesterday from his home in Stateline, on the southern end of Lake Tahoe. “This baby just seems to be stretching on forever.”

Storms also have caused flooding in Southern California and Arizona, deadly avalanches in Utah and ice damage and flooding in the Ohio Valley.

The weather was blamed for at least seven weekend deaths in Southern California, including a homeless man who was killed yesterday by a landslide. Along the storms’ eastward track, avalanches killed two persons on Saturday in Utah, authorities said.

A lull in the storm allowed for the reopening yesterday of Interstate 80 over Donner Summit and U.S. 50 over Echo Summit after the highways were closed off and on for more than a day. The highways connect Sacramento, Calif., to Reno.

“The snowbanks along Interstate 80 are about 8 to 10 feet high. It’s like you’re going through a maze,” said Jane Dulaney, spokeswoman for the Rainbow Lodge west of Donner Summit.

More than 220 Amtrak passengers were back in Sacramento yesterday after spending the night stuck in their train in deep snow west of Donner Summit, spokesman Marc Magliari said.

One car of the California Zephyr, eastbound from Oakland, Calif., to Chicago, derailed in the snow Saturday evening. No one was hurt.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport was closed for 12 hours overnight for the second time in a week, and only the third time in 40 years, because plows could not keep up with the heavy snowfall, spokeswoman Trish Tucker said.

“It’s nice to know that there are places with more snow than the Dakotas,” Wendy Wollmuth said, while waiting for a flight to her home in Moffit, N.D.

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