Rare snow day delivers a mixed bag to Auburn, foothills

Heaviest snowfall for Downtown Auburn in nearly 20 years
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The Auburn area woke up Monday to one of the heaviest snowfalls in recent memory. Auburn was hit hard overnight by a storm that brought freezing temperatures and four inches of the white stuff to Downtown. Up to 8 inches fell in outlying areas. The snow was a mixed blessing, with schools closed and bundled-up children exploding out of their houses for a rare chance at snowball fights, making snowmen and even sledding or snowboarding. But the snow wasn’t a welcome sight for drivers. Auburn’s Ryan Lund didn’t have to go to Auburn Elementary School so he spent part of his Snow Day skidding down any slope he could find in the Downtown area on a boogie board made for snow sledding. “I didn’t think we would get this much,” said the 9-year-old, his cheeks rosy from the cold. “It’s just really fun to sled in it and have snowball fights.” The storm made driving a challenge, particularly in the morning hours on unplowed roads. The beauty and the danger created a mixed blessing for Auburn resident Alexandra Carnahan, who initially was thrilled that her children were experiencing their first real snowfall. But venturing out in her van to open for the day at Old Town’s Tsuda’s Eatery, she found herself dealing with the down side of the storm along a steep stretch of Virginia Street. A man helping another vehicle navigate the slippery slope tried to get out of the way as she approached but lost his footing. Carnahan said she was able to avoid the neighbor but her all-wheel drive minivan ended up on its side in a ditch. She was uninjured and at work soon afterward. Other areas of Placer County were also finding that winter had barged in a little early – and flexed some unexpected muscle. Rarely touched by even a sprinkling of snow, even Newcastle recorded a measurable amount. Sue Lizotte, produce manager of Newcastle Produce, said about 2 inches stuck on the ground. In Colfax, Bruce Hanley at the Sierra Energy 76 Unocal station said a foot of snow had fallen and it was still coming down at mid-afternoon. With chain controls between Baxter and the state line on Interstate 80, Sierra Energy was doing a brisk business selling tire chains, he noted. Colfax Pizza Factory owner Carey Roblez said the business encountered a spike in sales when hungry bus passengers rolled in after being stranded after a chain popped a tire. MORE THAN A FOOT IN FORESTHILL Foresthill’s Worton’s Market was selling plenty of shovels and salt, said the store’s Amber Gentry. Foresthill is above 3,000 feet. About 1.5 feet to 2 feet had fallen by the afternoon, Gentry said. The snowstorm snuck in while most of Auburn was sleeping overnight. At 6:30 a.m. Monday the storm had weakened and by 8 a.m., the snow had stopped, with low cloud moving in. But temperatures continued to stay at around freezing, resulting in sporadic snow mixed with light rain throughout the morning. The snowfall is the heaviest since 4.5 inches was recorded in Downtown Auburn on Feb. 16 and 17, 1990. During that storm, the roof on the Raley’s supermarket at the Foresthill exit collapsed, with no injuries inside. The 1990 storm also caused a hillside near Baxter to give way, sending debris onto Interstate 80 and closing traffic in both directions. SNOW IN VALLEY On the Valley floor, South Placer County was getting some snow Monday, with Roseville and Rocklin experiencing light, wet snow on the shoulders of roads, California Highway Patrol Officer Dave Martinez said. Without power, some area businesses were choosing to close Monday. Stacy Pedersen of The Master Technicians on Locksley Lane in North Auburn reported the decision was made at 4 a.m. because of a power loss and snow to shut for the day. For those that stayed open, the day was a mixed bag. Lizotte said that despite the lure of hot soup and warm drinks, people were likely staying home rather than visiting the Newcastle business. Carnahan said she was seeing new customers because of power outages in the Auburn area, with a strong demand for coffee people weren’t able to make at home. POWER OUTAGES The heavy snowfall caused power outages that were mostly the result of downed trees and branches. Pacific Gas & Electric customers, including Placer High School and nearby residences were without power early Monday, joining 6,700 blacked out in the Auburn area. PG&E spokeswoman Brandi Ehlers said thousands of customers in the Sierra were without power. Overnight on Interstate 80, chains were required on all vehicles except four-wheel-drives with snow tires on all four wheels from Auburn to the Nevada State line. CHP ADVICE CHP Officer Dave Martinez said that his office is advising people not to drive in the snow, especially east of Auburn. "Everything past Auburn is going to be pretty bad," Martinez said. "If you don't have to, you shouldn't drive." People who have to drive should leave enough time for probable delays because of winter conditions throughout the county, Martinez said. GEORGETOWN DIVIDE HIT HARD PG&E said 1,290 customers in Cool, 1,709 in Georgetown and 1,429 in Garden Valley were without power. As of 8 a.m., Foresthill, Weimar and Colfax had no outages. Meadow Vista had 1,788 homes and businesses without power, while Newcastle had 56 PG&E customers without electricity. Ehlers said that if people see a downed power line, they should assume that it's a live wire and call 9-1-1. Once that call is made, they can report it to the PG&E storm line at 1-800-PGE-5002. PG&E is asking for patience from customers as crews deal with multiple outages and difficulty getting to more remote areas. In Auburn, for instance, there were 41 separate outages, Ehlers said. Trees and limbs falling under the weight of the snow were blamed for most of the outages. At 8 a.m. the California Highway Patrol reported downed trees along Edgewood Road and Orange Street in Auburn. Indian Hill Road's steep south side was shut down after multiple spinouts. Limbs were also falling onto homes. Florence Parlin, an Auburn Hills Mobilehome Park resident, said she was shaken when limbs from a pine tree towering over her home fell onto her roof. -------------------------------------------- Cold should linger but snow not expected The foothills freeze should continue until at least Wednesday, the National Weather Service is forecasting. Temperatures were expected to dip into the mid-20s overnight Monday in the Auburn area and then reach the high 30s or low 40s during the day today. But the Arctic front will drop temperatures back into the upper 20s again tonight. Jason Clapp, a meteorologist with the Sacramento Weather Service office, said Monday that a chance of fog could moderate temperatures in some areas but that could be offset in the foothills by the presence of snowpack left over from the storm overnight Sunday. No measurable precipitation is expected through Wednesday. Rain will return Thursday to elevations below 3,000 to 4,000 feet. By the weekend, snow levels will have risen again – this time to 5,000 feet, or about where Blue Canyon is. – Gus Thomson