Storm-whipped winds make waves in South Lake Tahoe

By The Associated Press | Posted - Dec. 11, 2014 at 7:02 p.m.

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RENO, Nev. (AP) — Winds gusting to 140 mph in Sierra Nevada passes ahead of a powerful Pacific storm sent surfers into Lake Tahoe, toppled trees onto homes and a church, forced school closures and grounded commercial airline flights in Reno, authorities said.

No injuries were reported from the storm that National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Wallmann said was expected to deposit up to 3 feet of wet snow in higher elevations, a foot in elevations below 7,000 feet, and rain in the Reno-Sparks area.

"As far as rain and snow, it'll be a significant storm, but not a record-setter," Wallmann said of the wet weather that marched first through the San Francisco Bay Area. He noted that a rain storm in February dumped almost 6 inches of rain in Tahoe City and up to 5 feet of snow in Sierra Nevada mountains above 7,000 feet.

Meanwhile, clouds blanketed southern Nevada, where Andrew Gorelow, a weather service meteorologist in Las Vegas, said forecasts called for 10 to 20 mph winds and gusts of 30 mph before a light rain begins Friday morning. Gorelow said accumulations were expected to be less than 0.3 inch.

A winter weather advisory was issued for southern Nevada mountains, with up to 7 inches of snow accumulating at elevations above 7,000 feet.

The sheriff's office in California's El Dorado County posted a notice that South Tahoe and Mount Tallac high schools and five other campuses in the South Lake Tahoe area were closed Thursday due to a power outage.

A social hall at St. Theresa Catholic Church in South Lake Tahoe was damaged by a large fallen tree, said Eric Guevin, Tahoe Douglas fire marshal. But the tree narrowly missed a prominent statue in an outdoor courtyard.

Wallmann said winds at Reno-Tahoe International Airport reached 71 mph Thursday. topping 70 mph for the first time since November 2009.

At least 30 commercial flights were canceled in the morning, airport spokesman Brian Kulpin said, and officials advised travelers to contact their airline before heading to the Reno airport.

"Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose and San Francisco are all seeing really heavy weather," Kulpin said, referring to airports in Northern California. "It's an airline decision, not the airport, to cancel. But they don't want to have aircraft stuck on the ground.

"We'd rather see snow than wind," Kulpin added. "We can move snow. We can't move wind."

High wind warnings extended from Gerlach, about 90 miles north of Reno, to as far south as Bridgeport, California, and to points east including Fallon, Lovelock, Hawthorne and Yerington.

Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper David Gibson said high-profile vehicles were banned on Interstate 580 between Reno and Carson City. Areas of blowing dust were expected to reduce visibility to a mile or less along Interstate 80 east of Fernley and on U.S. Highways 50 and 95.

At least seven homes were damaged by felled trees in the Zephyr Cove and Stateline area, Guevin said, and downed power lines sparked a wildfire that firefighters extinguished north of Cave Rock.

Crews also removed trees blocking several roads, including U.S. 50 near Zephyr Cove.

Waves of 6 to 7 feet on Lake Tahoe drew surfers and adventurous kayakers like Scott Sady, a photographer from Reno who donned a wetsuit and strained to paddle into the wind for short surf rides back to shore.

Sady said waves pounded breakwaters, jetties and docks in areas where most pleasure boats have been removed for winter.

"I got a few good rides," he said.

Guevin said low lake levels due to drought may reduce the chance of damage to buildings and property.

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