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Winter storm's fallout: Missing snowboarder found dead, snowplow overturns

Braving the snow storm on Highway 50

Wind and blowing snow made for hazardous conditions in El Dorado County on Thursday, March 1, 2018. Here's what some drivers enountered.
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Wind and blowing snow made for hazardous conditions in El Dorado County on Thursday, March 1, 2018. Here's what some drivers enountered.

The winter storm that roared through the Sierra on Thursday continued to wreak havoc Friday as a Rocklin snowboarder was found dead at Squaw Valley Ski Resort and a Caltrans snowplow overturned on Highway 50.

Wenyu Zhang, 42, was found Friday morning after a search was narrowed through the use of a tracker program used by the resort, the Placer County Sheriff's Office reports. The Sheriff's Office Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue began searching late Thursday when Zhang did not return from the ski hill, according to a department Facebook post.

His cause of death is undetermined, officials said. The resort's web site reports that it has received 32 inches of snow in the past 24 hours.

Traffic was held on Highway 50, westbound at Meyers and eastbound at Echo Summit, early Friday afternoon to remove a Caltrans snowplow that overturned earlier near North Upper Truckee Road, the California Highway reports.

The snowplow operator was clearing the roadway near Meyers at about 3:45 a.m. when he “experienced whiteout conditions and lost his sense of direction,” said Liza Whitmore, Caltrans spokeswoman. "He crossed over the westbound lane and went down the embankment on the other side. It was heavily snowing at the time."

The snowplow driver was able to walk away from the scene, but he suffered minor injuries, including facial cuts, Whitmore said. He was transported to a local hospital, but "he is OK," she said.

The CHP restricted traffic for almost nine hours while Caltrans recovered the vehicle. Officers are investigating the accident. They wrote on social media that low visibility appeared to be a factor.

The roadway reopened just before 1 p.m., though traffic is moving slowly, according to the CHP.

A Caltrans snowplow that overturned early Friday is being removed Friday afternoon on Highway 50 after it overturned earlier in the day near North Upper Truckee Road.



Traffic has also slowed on Interstate 80 over Donner Summit in snowy conditions, according to Caltrans.

Kirkwood Mountain Resort and Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe each reported three feet of snow over the last 24 hours as of Friday morning, and Homewood Mountain Resort, Squaw Valley, Tahoe Donner, Heavenly Mountain Resort and Northstar all got more than two feet.

In some places, the snow was too much to handle. Donner Ski Ranch has shuttered until Saturday, Boreal and Royal Gorge both closed Thursday and Heavenly stopped operating its Gondola up from Highway 50. With weaker winds and lighter precipitation expected in the storm's second phase, though, most resorts ought to be open if slightly affected through the weekend.

Winter driving tips

Another foot or two of snow is expected in the Sierra Nevada before the storm passes Saturday night, said Mike Kochasic, National Weather Service meteorologist , and a quarter to half-inch of rain with possible thunderstorms in the Sacramento Valley. A winter storm warning is in effect in the Truckee area until 10 a.m. Saturday, the weather service reports.

Snow is expected to accumulate as low as 1,000 to 2,000 feet Friday afternoon, building up an inch or so as low as Cameron Park or Shingle Springs, Kochasic said. A blizzard warning remains in effect through 1 p.m. in Mono County, and travel east of Auburn is likely to be affected until 10 p.m. Saturday.

Chain controls are in effect Friday afternoon on Highway 50 from 1-1/2 miles west of Kyburz to Myers and on Interstate 80 from three miles east of Gold Run to Truckee, according to Caltrans. Lake Tahoe's west shore Highway 89 is closed from Bliss State Park to Ebrights because of avalanche danger, Caltrans reports.

A weak system is expected to clip the northern Sacramento Valley and drop light snow in the mountains Wednesday through Friday, Kochasic said, before drying out in time for next weekend.

As snowstorms pounded the Sierras March 1, Norden resident Tommy Lounsbury warned people not to travel up the mountains due to the scary storm.

Here is the forecast through Sunday for the Truckee area, according to the weather service:

  • Friday: Snow likely. Cloudy, with a high near 27. Southwest wind 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70 percent. Total daytime snow accumulation of 3 to 5 inches possible.

  • Friday night: Low around 19. Southwest wind around 10 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100 percent. New snow accumulation of 4 to 8 inches possible.

  • Saturday: Snow showers likely, mainly before 10 a.m. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 28. Southwest wind 5 to 10 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New snow accumulation of around an inch possible.

  • Saturday night: A 40 percent chance of snow showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 9. Southwest wind around 5 mph. New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible.

  • Sunday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 33. Southwest wind around 5 mph.

No one has enjoyed this intense March snowstorm more than the dogs who are spending their days playing in the winter wonderland.

Here is the forecast through Sunday for the Sacramento area, according to the weather service:

  • Friday: A chance of showers, then showers and possibly a thunderstorm after 10 a.m. High near 53. Southeast wind 5 to 11 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80 percent. New rainfall amounts of less than a tenth of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.

  • Friday night: Showers and possibly a thunderstorm before 10 p.m., then a chance of showers. Low around 39. South wind 6 to 13 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80 percent. New precipitation amounts of less than a tenth of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.

  • Saturday: A 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 54. South wind 5 to 8 mph. New rainfall amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.

  • Saturday night: A 50 percent chance of showers, mainly before 10 p.m. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 38. South wind around 7 mph. New precipitation amounts of less than a tenth of an inch possible.

  • Sunday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 56. Light and variable wind.

Travelers and locals deal with a big snow storm in the Sierra. Chains, plows and shovels are coming out of hibernation.

Benjy Egel: (916) 321-1052, begel@sacbee.com

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