Blizzard Conditions in the Sierra Nevada Leave One Dead, Two Injured
A Lake Tahoe resident clears a side road with a snow blower. The region was hit by a blizzard on Friday that dumped 3 feet (1 meter) of snow in the mountains and saw winds gust to nearly 150 mph over the ridge tops. (Lesley McClurg/KQED)
Updated 4:06 p.m. Saturday
Heather Turping was snowboarding with her boyfriend when she heard someone scream "Avalanche!"
Then Turping, 39, saw "a cloud of snow coming down."
The avalanche that hit Friday at the Squaw Valley Ski Resort caught five people — one day after a snowboarder died there during a blizzard as a winter storm rolled through California.
The storm that steamrollered through the Sierra Nevada continues to threaten more rain and snow through Saturday afternoon in Southern California, a few hundred miles away.
Just this morning, another avalanche prompted the closure of Mammoth Mountain ski resort, south of Yosemite National Park.
The Mono County Sheriff's department says three people were partially buried but unhurt.
The National Weather Service said mountains in Ventura and Los Angeles counties could see up to a foot of new snow at higher elevations.
Other areas could see some showers before an eastward-moving low-pressure trough moved on but forecasters said it wouldn't be enough to cause major flooding.
That was a relief to residents of the coastal foothill town of Montecito, northwest of Los Angeles. The Santa Barbara County town was ravaged by mudslide in January that killed 21 people and inundated hundreds of homes.
Evacuation orders affecting up to 30,000 people on the south Santa Barbara County coast were issued Wednesday but lifted Friday after the worst of the rain passed without significant damage.
"We have come through this with minimal impact," said Rob Lewin, director of the county Office of Emergency management.
The Sierra Nevada avalanche Friday afternoon injured two people, one seriously. Three others escaped without being hurt.
Heather Turping saw the massive avalanche passed only a foot in front of her.
A woman screamed that her husband was missing and someone spotted a snowboard poking out of the snow.
"That's what saved his life," Turping said.
"I took my gloves off and I helped dig him out," she said. "When he got uncovered, a ski patroller said, 'You were under for six minutes.'"
The man wasn't seriously hurt and was able to snowboard back down the mountain, she said.
The skiers and snowboarders were within areas open to skiing at the time and the guests had been warned of the potential danger, Squaw Valley spokeswoman Liesl Hepburn said.
The resort used explosives and other tools to knock down snow to prevent avalanches throughout the day but the snowfall was heavy, she said.
"We had assessed the area to be safe to open to the public and unfortunately an avalanche did occur after that assessment was made," Hepburn said.
The avalanche occurred hours after the body of a missing snowboarder was found at the same resort.
Wenyu Zhang, 42, vanished Thursday as the region was hit by a blizzard packing winds gusting to nearly 150 mph (241 kph) over the ridge tops. It dumped 3 feet (1 meter) of snow in the mountains.
A blizzard warning expired Friday but whiteout conditions were still possible around Lake Tahoe, where a winter storm warning remained in effect until 10 a.m. this morning, the National Weather Service said.