Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Meanwhile, on the eastern side of the Sierra...

In late February, a series of avalanches buried half a mile of U.S. Route 395 on the

eastern side of California's Sierra Nevada under 30 to 40 feet of snow and debris.

Three weeks and another atmospheric river later, a portion of the highway near Mono

Lake is still closed, with no solid estimation as to when it'll reopen. 

The full extent of the damage the avalanches caused to U.S. 395 won't be known until snow and debris have been cleared, which could take weeks, Caltrans District 9 wrote in an update posted to Facebook. The avalanches that struck the hillsides above the highway between Lee Vining and State Route 167 are expected to have carried rocks, trees, guardrails, fencing and pieces of road along with heavy amounts of snow and ice, guaranteeing that future debris removal will be a lengthy process. 

Meanwhile, the closure has cut off the small communities of Lee Vining and Mono City from each other. What was once a short commute between the nearby towns is now a four-hour drive through Nevada, and many people in the area are now unable to attend school, go to work or visit family members, according to the Mono Lake Committee.  Further north, an avalanche on March 12 near Walker Canyon briefly closed US 395 from the Sonora Junction to the town of Walker, effectively forcing the nearby town of Bridgeport into isolation. 

Caltrans announced on Tuesday that more mitigation efforts need to be performed before work to clear the highway can continue. It will be at least two weeks after that work starts before U.S. 395 can reopen in any capacity, Caltrans said.

Mono Lake will probably gain a lot of water this spring, and that's good.


  1. My condolences from those affected by this. Effectively forces some to become snow bound.

  2. I hauled logs out of Mammoth one winter. Back when the Forest Service actually had a timber sale program, the winter was the only time they'd let you log down there. One day as I was headed north on 395 I was in a large valley that was probably 10 miles from the crest of the Sierra. It was a sunny, windy day and you could see the snow blowing off of the peaks to the west. I came upon a quarter mile stretch of the highway thar was covered with a foot of snow that had drifted, from where I don't know. It almost seemed as though it blew off the top of the mountain and landed on the road ahead of me.

    A sunny day, not a cloud in the sky and a foot of snow on the road. To say that place gets some wild weather is an understatement. But it sure is beautiful.

  3. Me and my wife met in the late 70s at UCLA. After college we married. We droved from LA up US395 to our Honeymooned location at a Lodge at Lake Tahoe it was June and a beautiful trip.

  4. 2 weeks to clear? Contract it out and it will be done in 2 days. Caltrans is a joke.

    1. It is contracted out. The CalTrans Facebook post explains what they're up against.
      Don't overlook the fact that they may find cars with bodies in them under that 40 feet of snow and debris.

  5. My question is this: The resources that seem to be in the most dire shape in recent years are Lake Powell and Lake Mead. How much of this year's aberrational snowpack is expected to make it into these severely depleted (through mismanagement) watersheds, and how many feet are these lakes expected to recover?

    1. The headwaters for those two lakes are in Colorado, not California.
      Unless those storms had enough moisture left after they got over the Sierras, it won't do anything for either. That's why everything from northern Nevada to Mexico is a great big endless desert: it's in a rain shadow.

      As a rule, Powell and Mead will be fed by Canadian weather coming south and snowing in the Rockies, not Pacific weather moving NE.
      And nearly everything hitting the E side of the Sierras south of Bridgeport runs onto land owned by the L.A. DWP, and gets hoovered into that aqueduct. That's why Owens Lake is a dry dustbowl year around, for decades.

    2. Thanks Aesop - haven't made a study of the Canadian or Coloradoan weather this winter, and most of the airtime has gone to west coast coverage. I think that Colorado has also had unusually heavy snowfall, but that ain't sayin' much, compared to what the coastal range has seen.

  6. I-395 will be cleared once the sun comes out and stays for awhile.
    How long before I-395 will be a driveable road is the unknown.