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Stranded in the snow

Storm blasts foothills, leaving some motorists stuck on snowy roads

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Amy Alonzo, Sonora Union Democrat/courtesy photograph

Traffic slows to a crawl in downtown Sonora on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013.

Updated

A freak snowstorm blasted the foothills east of Lodi on Tuesday, snarling traffic and stranding dozens of motorists on Highway 49.

Snow fell as low as 1,000 feet and there were delays throughout Calaveras, Tuolumne and Amador counties. Traffic was backed up for several miles at one point Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s white and cold, and many cars are stuck. It’s wild,” said Rebecca Cathey, a Valley Springs resident who got stuck on Highway 49 just outside of Sonora.

Cathey and her husband, Glenn, expected to be stranded until late Tuesday night, when California Department of Transportation workers were expected to clear the road.

Cathey estimated 40 or 50 cars were backed up in the area on Tuesday afternoon, including cars with 4-wheel drive and chains. The Catheys became stuck on Highway 49 at about 2:45 p.m. Tow trucks had removed some of the stuck cars around 6 p.m., but it was unknown when the road would be cleared.

Heavy rain came down in the Lodi area, but you didn’t have to drive very far to encounter the white stuff.

In Jackson, you could go as far as Jackson Rancheria Casino off Highway 88 and Ridge Road without chains, but Caltrans officials were alerting motorists that they needed to put on chains if they wanted to go east of Jackson, said CHP Officer B. Hagemann, from the Jackson office.

The storm should have passed by today. Cold but dry weather can be expected in the Valley and foothills Wednesday, said Ken Clark, a meteorologist for AccuWeather.com, a private forecasting service. Lows tonight are expected to be 32 to 34 degrees, Clark said.

In Calaveras County, there was a little bit of snow in San Andreas, but about 2 inches in Angels Camp, according to Mike Joslin, an officer from the CHP office in San Andreas.

Like Amador County, Calaveras had numerous spinouts on its roads. The biggest one was on Highway 49 between Angels Camp and San Andreas, which caused traffic to back up for four to five miles, Joslin said.

Another major crash took place on Highway 4 between Murphys and Arnold. A lot of drivers slid off the road and got stuck in snowbanks, Joslin said. Snow also accounted for multiple spinouts on another part of Highway 4 — between Angels Camp and Copperopolis.

“People were driving over their capabilities in this weather,” Joslin said. “We got a lot of weather real fast.”

Tuesday’s storm brought colder temperatures, a rare tornado and much-needed rain to California, and left light snow dustings on even relatively low-elevation Bay Area mountain peaks.

The storm came out of the Gulf of Alaska, bringing the first significant rainfall to the region in several weeks, the National Weather Service said.

Periodic showers, including bits of hail, hit the Bay Area in time for the morning commute while a batch of new snow fell in the Sierra Nevada, where ski resorts around Lake Tahoe were expecting up to 8 inches of snow.

Light snow flurries were spotted high in the hills in Oakland and Berkeley on Tuesday, said Rick Canepa, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Monterey. The storm also left a dusting of snow on the top of Mount Hamilton near San Jose and on the tips of Mount Diablo in the East Bay by early Tuesday afternoon.

North of Red Bluff, a tornado with wind speeds between 40 to 70 mph was spotted shortly after 1:30 p.m., according to the weather service. It caused little or no damage.

Even though San Francisco saw highs in the 70s last week, California has been experiencing a colder-than-normal winter overall.

“We went from about 10 degrees above normal this past weekend to 10 degrees below (Tuesday),” said Austin Cross, another weather service meteorologist based in Monterey. “We’re usually somewhere in the 60s, temperature-wise, at this time of year.”

There will probably be no rain today through rest of the week, said Clark, the meteorologist from AccuWeather.com.

News-Sentinel News Editor Kyla Cathey and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

5 images

Amy Alonzo, Sonora Union Democrat/courtesy photograph

Traffic slows to a crawl in downtown Sonora on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013.

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