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Snow sliding, pileup force ‘rare’ I-80 closure

More rain forecasted this week
By: Jenifer Gee Journal News Editor
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A heavy downpour of rain and snow wreaked havoc on the freeway this weekend but left parts of the county and city of Auburn relatively unscathed. A 45-car pileup Friday and excessive snow Sunday forced the California Department of Transportation to shut the freeway both days for up to 11 hours. Carol Herman, spokeswoman for Caltrans, said drivers will be held and released at certain times of the year pending weather conditions, but closures do not happen very often. “We rarely close Interstate 80,” Herman said. “This is a rare occurrence to actually close down 80 because the conditions were so severe.” On Friday, crews needed time to clean up the massive wreck that involved seven jack-knifed big rigs and up to 45 cars piled up. The accident killed one. Road conditions worsened between Saturday night and Sunday morning when 39 inches of fresh snow piled onto the freeway. Herman added that snow was so heavy it started sliding onto the road. She said that condition, coupled with zero visibility made the freeway unsafe for drivers. Herman said about 200 Caltrans employees and 135 pieces of equipment were on the roads this weekend. “Our maintenance forces were out in force and were literally just exhausted from just a very busy weekend,” Herman said. The 45-car pileup was the biggest accident for local California Highway Patrol officers to respond to over the wild weather weekend. Besides dropping a significant amount of snow, the weekend storm dumped 2.86 inches of rain on Auburn. Winds gusted up to 41 mph from the south-southeast “right around midnight” Saturday, said Drew Peterson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Sacramento office. Peterson added that the office had a report from one person from the Auburn area over the weekend saying there was snow at about 1,450 feet. Officer Nico Bonfilio with the Auburn-area California Highway Patrol office said between Friday and Sunday, officers responded to 19 traffic accidents that he said were mostly “fender benders.” Public Works ‘running around’ Placer County’s Department of Public Works dispatched between 40 and 50 employees over the weekend mostly to handle the heavy snowfall on public roads. “We were definitely running around,” said Ken Grehm, director of Placer County Public Works. Grehm said the closure of Interstate 80 did have an impact on public works’ employees trying to make it into the high country to plow roads. “But we were doing what we needed to do to keep operations going,” Grehm said. Grehm said downed tree and branches calls were few and while there was some flooding on roads, there were no major closures. On Monday, Grehm said crews were clearing any branches or debris that was left on the side of the road over the weekend. “I feel good that we made it through without any major incidents,” Grehm said. Bernie Schroeder, director of public works for the city of Auburn, said the city’s public works weekend crew of about four to six employees had a fairly calm weekend as well. “As far as the storm I was pleasantly surprised we had very few calls and activity,” Schroeder said. “There was a lot of wind, there was a lot of water and I think from that standpoint and how we’re faring, I have to report very nice so far.” Shelter available For those without a home, Suzi deFosset, executive director of the Gathering Inn, said the program collected as many people as possible who sought shelter from the rain and wind. She said the Gathering Inn’s new bus helped them bring almost 60 homeless to their shelter at First Congregational Church in Auburn. On Thursday night the shelter was filled to capacity with 60 people. There were 58 people on both Friday and Saturday nights and on Sunday, 59 people used the shelter, deFosset said. “I actually thought it was going to be more than that but I think other people may have gone in with family or that type of thing,” deFosset said. “Nobody was left on the street that wanted services.” Weather forecast looks wet Looking ahead, Peterson said Auburn residents can expect about 1 1/2 of rain when another storm moves through the area late Tuesday and early Wednesday. He said an additional 2 inches is forecast when a second storm passes by late Thursday. Peterson snow could drop as low as 2,000 feet in the first storm but expects flurries and flakes to hover at around 3,000 feet for the duration of the weather system. While Schroeder said it was “surprisingly quiet” in Auburn for the weekend storm, crews are still on the ready for this week. “We’re geared up for the next round,” Schroeder said. Reach Jenifer Gee at Jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com. ---------- Weather by the numbers: 200 – number of Caltrans employees working this weekend 60 – the number of homeless people in an Auburn shelter Thursday night 45 – number of cars in a pileup that shut Interstate 80 for 11 hours 19 – number of accidents the Auburn-area California Highway patrol Office responded to 2.86 – number of inches of rain Auburn received over the weekend 2 – number of times Interstate 80 was shut down over the weekend ----------