Rocks, landmark tree, fall to punishing winter storm

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Waves of wind and rain Tuesday buffeted the Auburn area, causing rockslides on Old Foresthill Road and uprooting a landmark oak tree. Likened to a series of spokes on a wheel by one forecaster, the system pounded Auburn and nearby communities with off-and-on downpours throughout the morning. One particularly strong cloudburst moving in from the west at about 10 a.m. While no major accidents were reported, lightly traveled Old Foresthill Road in the American River canyon was temporarily closed because of rockslides. The biggest slide sent rocks and debris from the hillside onto the westbound lane of the road. Heavy equipment was used to move the debris. Officer Mike Mathis of the Auburn California Highway Patrol said the slides provide another reason to be cautions driving on curving mountain roads. Wet weather can make it even harder to stop for an obstruction, he said. “You never know what’s around the corner,” Mathis said. In North Auburn, Lone Star Road resident Rita Malek said drivers were fortunate Tuesday morning that the giant oak tree that toppled over on her property didn’t come crashing down on the road. Instead, Malek said the local landmark at the corner of Lone Star Road and Winding Way fell in the right direction – hitting pastureland. It wiped out part of a wooden fence but damaged no structures. “I woke up at 7 a.m. and looked up to see the tree and the tree wasn’t there,” Malek said. The storm was playing havoc with travel plans over the Sierra along Interstate 80. Chains or snow tires were required on I-80 over the Donner Summit and U.S. 50 over Echo Summit. The storm started late Sunday and sent rain coming down in sheets at times in the Auburn area on Monday. That trend continued Tuesday but snow levels dropped. By mid-afternoon, snow was falling lightly at Dutch Flat. By 1 p.m., traffic was being held along eastbound I-80, three miles east of Gold Run to Truckee. Ski Lake Tahoe , which represents seven resorts in the Tahoe area, was reporting higher elevations expecteding four to six feet of new-fallen snow by week’s end. “With more than three feet of new snow on the ground already this month and back-to-back storm systems lined up over the next few weeks, we’re looking at incredible mid-winter conditions in March,” said John Wagnon, Ski Lake Tahoe president. The new snow follows more than 12 feet of snow that came down in February. The region has already passed 300 inches of new snow this season, Ski Lake Tahoe said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at