Eastern Sierra Begins to Dig Out; Faces Ongoing Avalanche Danger

Wendilyn Grasseschi
Times Reporter

One of the biggest storms in seven years continued to affect the Eastern Sierra late into Monday, Jan. 24, closing U.S. Highway 395 between Bishop and June Lake until almost 2 p.m., when the road opened to Mammoth, but remaining closed to the June Junction.
A Winter Storm Warning has been extended twice today by the National Weather Service in the region stretching from Yosemite National Park to the Tulare/Kern County line; the Warning was supposed to expire this morning at 10 a.m. but was extended to 1 p.m. and then later tonight, to 6 p.m.
Light snow and windy conditions are in the forecast the remainder of the day, according to the NWS.
There are avalanche advisories in place as well, for the inhabited avalanche-prone areas scattered throughout Mono County and some roads in areas prone to avalanches will not be plowed until the danger is past.
The residents living in these areas have been warned and in some cases, have evacuated.
According to Mono County Sheriff Ingrid Braun, the avalanche danger is far from over today, due to thick, heavy snow that fell last night and the wind drift, creating unstable snow layers.
“Right now, we are working with our hydrologist to determine the danger level and we will plow those roads as soon as we can, without endangering our drivers,” she said, recalling a fatal snowplow accident many years ago in the Twin Lakes area that killed a snowplow driver.
Another risk will come down the road later this week as snowmobilers and skiers hit the backcountry, sometimes triggering their own avalanches, she said.
“Today we worry about natural avalanches but tomorrow, it could be both,” she said.
An avalanche last night took out the power in Crowley Lake and the surrounding communities of Long Valley and McGee Creek but most power has been restored, she said. The avalanche came down off of McGee Mountain last night about 11 p.m., and crashed into a home and forced the residents to flee but no one was hurt, she said.
A shelter has been set up for anyone in the area who wants to use it today and tonight, at the Crowley Lake Community Center, she said.
About twelve people in the area evacuated and twelve decided to stay, she said.
Mammoth Lakes is buried under about five feet of new snow since the storm kicked in Friday on top of an already ten-foot-plus winter snowfall, stretching the limits of the Town’s snow removal and public safety and police employees, and many people in Mammoth today were not able to get to work on time because they were “bermed in” behind huge, heavy berms of snow left behind by the plows late last night.
Another issue facing Mammoth is that many of the town’s fire hydrants are buried under feet of snow. Should a fire start in Mammoth, precious time could be lost trying to dig the hydrants out and Mammoth Lakes Fire Chief Frank Frievalt is urging residents to seek out nearby fire hydrants and clear them voluntarily.
“It would be a big help to us,” he said. “We simply cannot get to every one of them.”
Things should begin to dry out tomorrow, Jan. 24, allowing weary residents time to shovel out and snowplow crews time to try to find more room to store snow but Mono County is not out of the woods yet.
With a 200 percent of normal snowpack for the date, many forecasters believe another round of similar storms could arrive by the first week of February.
Here is the list of places under Avalanche Advisories:
An avalanche advisory remains in effect for the following areas:
* Twin Lakes (Bridgeport) - Twin Lakes Road above Twin Lakes Resort
* June Lake - Lakeview Road
* Long Valley - Crowley Lake Drive from 395 to McGee Creek
* Aspen Springs
* Swall Meadows - Lower Rock Creek from 395 to Swall Meadows, upper residential roads

*Roads will not be plowed in the affected areas until the avalanche danger has subsided. The Crowley Lake Community Center is open as a Shelter.