Sunday, March 08, 2009

Don’t Under-estimate a Winter Storm Warning!

Over the Washington Birthday Holiday weekend, I was actually exited that snow was in the forecast. Plans had been made to spend a night in Bishop and the 4 Wheel Drive SUV was rented. I watched the weather reports on Saturday night and figured I can beat part of the winter storm. Did not pay much attention to the Monday forecast. I got up in the wee hours and took Hwy 50 over the mountains. It was raining and very windy when I left the SF Bay Area, but encountered only moderate snowfall when coming over the Echo Summit on Hwy 50. It started to snow when I drove over to Hwy 88 on Hwy 89. Not really a problem, I just drove slow (~30mph & 4Wheel drive). There was no more snow falling after I got past Woodfords. Made my way to Minden and stopped for breakfast, a bathroom break and some other groceries.
Finally on my way along US395 to Bishop. The Sierra Mountains from Lee Vining to Bishop were shrouded in clouds, so I did not take many images. Made it to Bishop by noon. (9 hours from the SF Bay Area with several stops)


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Round Valley – Mountains are shrouded in clouds. February 15, 2009. © Copyright Inge Fernau .

This photograph is not in the public domain! It may not be used on websites, blogs, or in any other media without explicit advance written permission from Inge Fernau


It was too early to check into my motel, so I drove up the Bishop Creek Canyon. Snapped a few more images, but I wanted snowy trees and for that I needed new snow.
After checking into the motel, I took another drive to Convict Lake and got a few interesting images.


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Storm is coming. February 15, 2009. © Copyright Inge Fernau .

This photograph is not in the public domain! It may not be used on websites, blogs, or in any other media without explicit advance written permission from Inge Fernau


There was no sunset to photograph, so I went back to the motel and called my daughter to check in. She told me to watch the weather, because the TV stations were announcing a winter storm warning for the Sierra Mountains.
I went on line and found the weather reports and they were not good for my trip back the next day. I enjoy driving when it snows, but it has to be reasonable. My plans on waiting for sunrise in the Buttermilks were just put to bed, I knew I had to get on the road and make my way back to the SF Bay Area. (Rental return was by 8:30PM)
Getting on the road at 6AM it started to snow a little in Bishop. Had the CalTrans number on speed dial on my cell to check road conditions. My next encounter with snow was over the Sherwin Summit. Not a big deal, I drive slow and in 4x4. The snowfall increased as I passed Mammoth and here vehicles just passed me, because I was going too slow. There was actually very little traffic on the road at this early hour. The wind was blowing pretty hard and every time a car did pass me, snow was blown onto my windshield and left me just about blind for a few seconds – until the windshield wipers cleared the view. Did not see too many snow plows clearing the road, so snow accumulated fast. No time for real photography, but I took my Powershot G7 and snapped a few thru my windshield as I stopped here and there.
The snowfall became heavier as I passed Lee Vining and for a while a snow plow was my guiding light, because visibility was bad. I saw one car that had ended up in the snow bank before I got to Bridgeport.


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Guiding Light in the Storm. February 16, 2009. © Copyright Inge Fernau .

This photograph is not in the public domain! It may not be used on websites, blogs, or in any other media without explicit advance written permission from Inge Fernau


In Minden I called CalTrans to make sure roads were open. I made the bad decision to take Hwy 88 over the mountain. Text my daughter that I was getting ready to cross at 11AM. Once I was pass Woodfords the snow came down hard and visibility was not good, but I could manage by just going slow. I stopped at Hope Valley right before you go up onto the Carson Pass to take a few images. I should have turned around here to take Hwy 50……


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Hope Valley is getting dumped on. February 16, 2009. © Copyright Inge Fernau .

This photograph is not in the public domain! It may not be used on websites, blogs, or in any other media without explicit advance written permission from Inge Fernau


Driving over Hwy 88 in this snow storm was outright scary. Normally you can see the tire tracks from other vehicles and you can follow them, not this time, I could barely see 20 feet ahead of me. Every once in a while I was able to follow a car, but most of them were going faster than I felt was safe for me. It was snowing hard and the wind was blowing heavy and blew up the snow so I could not see anything, just guessing at times where the road was, looking for the snow poles on both sides and placing myself in the middle and moving out of the way when I saw headlights coming. On top of the Carson Pass there were several cars stuck in the snow bank. I slowed down to 10mph and had my hazard lights flashing. I must have pissed off a lot of drivers, because I only pulled over when I could and then a long line of vehicles zipped by me…..
I saw only ONE snow plow and that one was going the other direction, throwing up a bunch of stuff on my windshield. 5 minutes later my windshield developed a crack right above the steering wheel. I thought after passing Caples Lake the visibility would get better, but no chance. The crack on the windshield got longer as the wipers passed over it, but the windshield did not break. Puttering along in slow speed, I thought I never get off this mountain, driving in almost whiteout conditions dragged on for what seemed to be forever.
Finally once I passed Cook’s Station the snow on the road turned to slush and the visibility was much better. I encountered heavy rain, but that was fine with me. I got over the mountain in one piece and I must admit I underestimated the force of the storm. It took me 11 hours to get back to the SF Bay Area. I will be a better judge next time, but for now I saw all the snow I want to for a while…..

2 comments:

Sierra Impressions said...

Glad you made it okay! I go the same route except turn off on to 89 at Hope Valley to go over Luther Pass when traveling to Sacramento. I wouldn't want to go over that in the conditions you describe! Nice shots.

Magical Glow Photography said...

Thank you Cory,
I believe they left Hwy 88 open due to it being a holiday weekend. I think they closed it around 3PM for avalance control. Looking back I should have taken Hwy 50, it does not stay that long at the higher elevations, I misjudged and had to live thru the fear of crashing any minute, because I could not see what was in front of me (some cars did NOT have their lights on). Snow was falling so hard that tire tracks were covered in a matter of minutes.
It will not shy me away from driving in the snow, but I will take different routes.

Inge