Trapped in Lake Tahoe? – Here’s what to do when a Winter Storm Hits

The scenario

You and your friends go to Tahoe for a day trip. Everyone is having a great time enjoying the slopes when all of a sudden a Winter Storm hits.

It’s snowing more than you have ever seen before in your life. You normally live in San Francisco or Oakland and just came for the weekend. You probably need to be at Work or in the city for an interview, and now you are stuck.

This was my scenario on February 9th during one of the largest snow dumps I have ever seen in Tahoe.

Officials have increased potential snow totals for a series of winter storms this weekend at Lake Tahoe.
winter storm warning issued by the National Weather Service in Reno remains in effect until 10 p.m. Sunday.
The storms could bring 14 to 28 inches of new snow. Above 7,000 feet could see 2 to 5 feet.


Tahoe Daily Tribune on February 9th, 2019

2-5 ft of snow in 24 hours is a LOT of snow.

The Problem

Lake Tahoe only has 3 ways to get back to the Bay Area. All of them are susceptible to Winter Storms, especially Route 88 due to avalanche control.

I-80

SR-50

SR-88

My friends split between 3 cars and I all raced to get out of Tahoe around 1 PM on Saturday. Unfortunately, I-80 and the SR-50 were closed by CalTrans.

The Options

When you get down to the nitty gritty of the situation you really only have three options and not all might be available at the moment the storm hits.

1. Wait out the storm in Lake Tahoe

A. Truckee, CA

If you decide to wait out the storm in Truckee, you should:

  1. Buy food
  2. Find a cheap motel or a friend’s cabin to crash at
  3. Enjoy the night as the snow plows won’t get to work until the following day if the storm stops.
  4. If all else fails, you can sleep in your car. It’s important to sleep in an area where you will be safe from other cars hitting you. Sleeping bags are great for keeping warm. At the cost of the environment, you can leave your car running all night with the heater on.

B. South Lake Tahoe

If you decide to wait out the storm in South Lake Tahoe, you should:

  1. Buy food
  2. Find a cheap motel or a friend’s cabin to crash at. You can also gamble at the casinos or have a drink on the Nevada side to kill time.
  3. Enjoy the night as the snow plows won’t get to work until the following day when the storm stops.
  4. If all else fails, you can sleep in your car. You can sleep peacefully in the parking lots of the casinos. Sleeping bags are great for keeping warm. At the cost of the environment, you can leave your car running all night with the heater on.

2. Drive to Reno

A. Wait out the storm in Reno

B. The Northern Pass

The Northern Pass isn’t actually the official name for it but it’s a good moniker. This route was taken by my friend Wenz in 2018 when Lake Tahoe was completely shut down due to a Blizzard. Everyone in his car needed to be back at work ASAP and this is the only route that was open.

The overall goal of this route is to go around Lake Tahoe and cut across through the North. You can cross at either Susanville or Adan. You would start this route from Reno, Nevada.

C. Drive back to Tahoe and Try Option 3

3. Drive through the Winter Storm

  1. Buy food and water
  2. Have a full tank of gas
  3. Drive slow and prepare for a lot of traffic

Areas to Avoid:

Pioneer Trail

Pioneer Trail gets backed up all the time and is susceptible to a lot of traffic especially right before Meyers. Driving around this road or taking Lake Tahoe Blvd is a much better idea.

SR-88

During a major storm, Route 88 is always closed due to the Avalanche Control section right after Kirkwood Resort. You should try your best to avaoid this route.

Lessons Learned

1. Buy Chains and Carry Them even if your car is AWD or 4×4

DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES BUY CHAINS FROM A GAS STATION. THEY WILL RIP YOU OFF.

Chains are easily sold at ALL grocery stores, Ace Hardwares, and basically any outdoor store. If you want to avoid the hassle of buying chains in Tahoe, you can buy these Snow Cables below, which are the ones sold in Tahoe and should do just fine.

2. Drive Slow and Watch out for Black Ice

On our drive to Reno we saw multiple totaled cars. Cars were totaled by someone driving into them. Cars were totaled from slipping and flipping over. It’s very important for you to drive slow even if you have AWD. There is a chance there could be some black ice aren’t expecting.

3. If you stay in Reno, be careful with your car

Reno is a city with a lot to offer. Food, casinos, and shelter from Tahoe.

However, it is known to have a relatively high crime rate. During our stay in Reno, someone broke into my friend’s car.

It was a huge setback for the group and was an unfortunate situation since it was a Sunday; there wasn’t a body shop to repair it open. Ultimately, everyone managed to get back home safely. With some material from Home Depot we were able to create a short-term solution.

Stay up to date, get my newsletter

Tags: