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High avalanche danger, winds topping 100 mph as blizzard slams Tahoe, Mammoth, Sierra Nevada

Rong-Gong Lin II, Salvador Hernandez and Hayley Smith, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The highest elevation of the main roads to Lake Tahoe from the San Francisco Bay Area — Interstate 80 and Highway 50 — could see upward of 8 to 10 feet of snow. Interstate 5 in Siskiyou County, near the Oregon border, could see more than 1 foot of snow.

In Lake Tahoe, Manuel Jimenez Jr. and his son, Manuel Jimenez III, spent Thursday morning getting their tow trucks ready for what was sure to be a busy, treacherous weekend on the roads. The two own two local towing companies — Lake Tahoe Towing and South Lake Tahoe Towing — and storms such as this mean long workdays ahead.

“This is when the big boys step up,” said the older Jimenez.

The father and son have been working in the area for seven years, and, while many will try to hunker indoors until the storm passes, this is one of the busiest times for their business.

The two also document their exploits online, posting videos of how they pull stranded drivers back to safety for their thousands of followers on Instagram.

Before the storm arrived, they checked the equipment on their trucks, loaded their snow blowers, packed an extra pair of chains and inspected them to make sure none of them snap in the cold snow.

 

They know people have been warned not to travel, but with seven years of experience towing stranded cars, they know the cars will still come.

“When they don’t heed the warnings, and people are saying this is going to be a big one, we end up with six, seven miles of car jams within town,” Jimenez Jr. said. “They can’t even leave the basin.”

During bad storms, the two companies will get two calls a minute from drivers asking for help, he said. Storms such as this can create so much demand that they stay working 24 hours straight.

Many of the calls are from drivers who have jumped off main highways and followed navigation apps that lead them through local paths and streets away from traffic, he said. But while the apps navigate drivers away from gridlock, many of them don’t take into consideration the fact that local roads might be too steep, unplowed or not passable to drivers unaccustomed to driving in the snow.

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