The first took place in 1986 over President’s Day weekend. My wife and her father had gone up to the Lake on Friday—a school holiday-- while I was planning to follow Saturday afternoon with our exchange student son.
Heavy snowfall that closed Echo Summit resulted in us spending the Saturday night in Sacramento and then heading up the next morning. I recall how high the snowbanks were on the edges of Highway 50. We got into our room and then it started to rain and rain and rain. With snow clogging storm drains, we waded through flooded streets when we went to dinner. The next day, Betty Gail and her dad were scheduled to go home, but Highway 50 was still closed so they took off for Reno.
By the time they got there, Interstate 80 also was closed by mudslides (similar to this week). Tuesday morning, with the weather satellite on the Weather Channel showing storms lined up across the Pacific Ocean, Highway 50 opened for escorted traffic on the old road up Echo Summit. We got out and I remember debating whether to take Interstate 5 or Interstate 80 home from Sacramento, thinking about the flood waters that were rising along both roads.
We got home mid-afternoon and were surprised (this is pre-cell phone days) to not find my bride there. She finally got home about 11 p.m. that night. With Reno flooding and 80 still closed, they had driven south on Highway 395 to Highway 58 and come home through Bakersfield. Needless to say, they both needed a good night’s sleep after spending 36 hours trying to get home on what is normally a 3 ½ hour trip.
About 10 years later, we spent Christmas week at Tahoe getting rained out of any skiing. I remember walking around wearing a shell in the rain because the temperatures were in the 50s at lake level. Rockslides again closed Highway 50 so when we finally departed before New Year’s Eve, we had to go around the east side of the lake to Truckee to use I-80. That trip, as I recall, took more than 10 hours because the intersection in downtown Truckee (this was well before the bypass was built) was simply overwhelmed by the traffic.
Once we got to I-80, it was clear sailing home, but the conditions just got worse and worse with major flooding in South Lake Tahoe, in Lathrop and Manteca and in the normal tough spots around the Bay Area.
This time around with more heavy rain expected this week as well as snow piling up in the Sierra, it will be another tough week for people living near creeks and in low-lying areas. Now if we just had a couple more large reservoirs to store the abundant water.