Sierra snow emergency causes power outages, stranded visitors

More snow and rain pummeled California, causing travel disruptions on mountain routes in the Sierra, power outages and stranding many who wanted to return home from their extended Christmas holiday break. 

Major highways through the snow-blanketed Sierra Nevada remained open, but chain requirements were in effect in many areas.

Caltrans said snowplows were working around the clock and urged people to avoid all but essential travel in the Sierra.

As of Wednesday, 22 feet of snow had fallen in the Sierra-Tahoe region, according to scientists, breaking a 51-year snowfall record for the months of October through December. The previous record was set in 1970 with 21 ½ feet. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom activated the State Operations Center to monitor storm conditions and he "strongly" encouraged people from not traveling to snow-covered mountains to ski and frolic "until conditions improve." 

There was so much snow that Placer and El Dorado counties issues local emergencies after heavy snow caused trees and power lines to fall leaving tens of thousands of customers without power.

"The destruction here is just it's mind-boggling," said Ruth Baron, a longtime resident of Placer County. "This is the most destructive storm I have seen in those 20 years." 

DRAMATIC PHOTOS: Snow blankets Northern California

Not too far away in El Dorado County, thousands were without power on Wednesday and PG&E said it could be a while before electricity could be restored.

"That frustrated Sharon Donald of Pollack Pines, who said: "It just doesn't seem right that they can't get a crew out before Jan. 10."

The power went out in her home on Monday.

She and her husband, Ed, have been prepared to live without power for a few days  and they have a generator.

But right now, they only have enough fuel to last three or four more days and there's no way to get more.

Another woman is angry that she'll have to stay at a hotel until her power is back on.

"If they don't have the crews to come out and address this sooner, then they need to contract with third parties or do whatever they can to bring as many forces in as possible to get this work completed in a timely fashion," said Nancy Ryon. 

She said roads near her home are cleared, so it shouldn't be difficult to get a crew to her neighborhood.

And still others were stuck in Tahoe and Truckee areas, trying to leave and get back home to places like the Bay Area. 

On the scenic central coast, a 10-mile stretch of often-troubled Highway 1 remained closed by a weekend slide in San Luis Obispo County.

In Southern California, residents were ordered to leave three canyons in the Santa Ana Mountains on Wednesday night because of concern about mudslides. The December 2020 Bond Fire burned away vegetation and this year’s rains have triggered repeated evacuations. A recent rain sent mud flowing into several homes, making them unsafe.

People living in other Southern California burn areas were urged to leave voluntarily.

A flood watch was posted for much of the region from just south of Los Angeles County to San Diego and inland. Winter storm warnings were issued for many Southern California mountain ranges.

Forecasts called for California weather to generally dry out for the New Year’s weekend before more storminess next week.

KCRA and the AP contributed to t his report.