Weathering the Snowpocalypse

By Angela Shannon and Sandy Sanders

March 9, 2023

This photo from Alleghany excellently defines the experience of being "snowed-in".

Since last week's edition of The Mountain Messenger, weatherwise, little has changed. Every day, more snow arrived to keep all of the communities in the region buried in snow.

But, during this time, much happened to address the many problems caused by the snow storms.

For example, the Office of Emergency Services (OES) for Sierra County opened a warming station at the Downieville Community Hall on Friday, March 3. According to the locals who staffed the facility, Suzanne Smith and David Crosby, slightly more than two hundred people utilized the facility until power was restored to most of the town on Tuesday, March 7. Besides receiving relief from frigid residences dependent upon electricity for heat, visitors were provided with coffee and snacks donated by the Boomtown Lounge and the Cold Rush Coffee Shop. In addition, PG&E delivered pallets of free bottled water, blankets, emergency kits containing snacks, a bottle of water, and miniature power stations for charging phones. In addition, the utility provided a backup generator for powering the warming center and giving visitors internet service.

By Sunday, March 5, power was restored by PG&E to the town's commercial district. Also, Misita Tree & Land Inc. of Downieville completed work on clearing trees from roads, and Hansen Brothers Enterprises of Canby, Oregon, was fully engaged in replacing downed power poles.

Meanwhile, Sierra Hardware used their gas-powered generator to stay open all on regularly scheduled business days. The owner, Cindy McCreary, said she sold around 12 shovels, her entire inventory of propane cylinders, and many electrical cords.

Downieville's grocery store endured to the best of its ability despite a few "cash-only days." Fortunately, the bread truck arrived last Friday, but eggs and milk deliveries were delayed due to road conditions.

On March 6 and March 7, the Sierra County Public Works Dept. opened the Goodyears Bar Road Department Yard for emergency generator fuel, allowing residents to purchase up to 10 gallons at the price the County pays for the commodity.

The Downieville Volunteer Fire Department spent many hours shoveling snow from driveways and the streets, paying particular concern to ensure all fire hydrants were accessible.

After a sensor at the Downieville Public Utility District's water tank showed the tank was dry, the Water Plant Manager, Paul Douville and local Nigel Pearmund shoveled five feet of snow off the sensor's cables to correct the issue.

The Sierra County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) had its hands full throughout the period. After citing an overlength interstate truck for ignoring regulatory signage and failing to maintain their lane, they helped the driver turn around and head south. The SCSO also spent time preventing motorists who had been forced off a closed I-80, had slipped past road closed signage on CA-49 near Camptonville, and were advised by online GPS systems they could reach Reno from Downieville by taking Nevada St. and traveling up Galloway to Henness Pass. To address this problem, SCSO is now arranging to have all GPS providers mark this route as closed throughout the winter. As you can see by reading the Sheriff's Blotter on page 4 of this paper, the SCSO also kept very busy with requests for "welfare checks" from people concerned about friends and relatives.

According to Caltrans Public Information Officer Steve Nelson in Marysville, "all roads and highways in the region have been challenging." However, both Caltrans and the County's Roads Dept. worked tirelessly, daily, 12-hour shifts, to keep our streets and highways plowed.

As for communication problems here, by Tuesday, March 7, AT&T had restored telephone and internet service to most parts of Downieville, and AT&T's cell tower went back into operation after they replaced the unit's power source on Wednesday, March 8.

In the meantime, service at Downieville's only remaining drinking establishment, the St. Charles, could not be thwarted. The bar stayed open as usual, even if it meant the bartender wore a heated vest and served cocktails by candlelight.

Also, Sonya Meline, owner of the Carriage House Inn and Riverside Mountain Lodge, reported receiving a steady stream of guests. Some were "snow orphans" stopping in from faulty GPS directions. But, she said most of her traffic was "housing locals at reduced rates or cheaper who don't have access to heat, internet, and other essentials of daily living such as power and water."

Recognizing how hard these storms have hit mountain communities up and down the state, on March 1, Governor Newsom proclaimed a State of Emergency for 13 counties, Sierra County and Nevada County being the only Northern California counties to appear on the list.

Meanwhile, a "Pineapple Express" is forecast to arrive today, March 9. With snow fall levels expected to rise up to 7000' during this event, some citizens will be switching from snow shovels to sandbags since the National Weather Service is predicting almost 15" of rain will fall in Downieville between now and Tuesday, March 15.

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