Photo: Jason Bean / Associated Press
When Katja Nelson traveled to Lake Tahoe this weekend, she expected a white wedding, not whiteout conditions.
What normally would be a four-hour drive back to San Francisco turned into a daylong mess for the Airtable product manager and her boyfriend. The couple had traveled up to the Sierra for a friend’s wedding. Their car inched along Interstate 80 in Donner Pass for several hours, hit patches of black ice and eventually slid off into a snowbank.
“We were there for about an hour trying to get the car out but also worried about continuing to slide down the mountain without much control,” Nelson said.
Snowfall between 10 and 20 inches was expected throughout the day at elevations above 7,000 feet, said National Weather Service meteorologist Evan LaGuardia. As of Sunday evening, Kingvale (Placer County) reported 21 inches and nearby Castle Peak reported 18 inches.
Traffic came to a halt on Interstate 80 in both directions on Sunday afternoon. The California Highway Patrol shut down the busy route from Colfax to the Nevada line after several vehicles spun out and drivers reported zero visibility on the road. Snow also closed routes 20, 88 and 89, according to Caltrans.
“The sweet spot is down in Mono County, and all up to the Tahoe basin is getting pounded,” LaGuardia said.
Coupled with gusts up to 80 mph, the snow blanketed the mountains on Sunday afternoon, causing dangerous conditions for drivers.
CHP, Caltrans and other first responders worked to clear the “queue” of vehicles stuck in the closure zone, said Caltrans spokeswoman Deanna Shoopman.
Caltrans snow plows waited for the snow to stop falling before clearing highway lanes. There was no estimated time to reopen the roadway as of 5 p.m. Sunday.
“We just have to take it one step at a time,” Shoopman said. “We will not open until it’s safe for the traveling public.”
Nelson and her boyfriend called for a tow truck to get them out of the pass, but a Caltrans vehicle came to their rescue after an hour in the snowbank and slowly pushed them out of the closed area. Just after 5 p.m., the couple finally made it to a Chipotle for a meal, after eight hours on the road and in the snow without a break for food or the bathroom.
But they count themselves among the lucky and thankful ones after the icy mess. On their way out, they counted at least 10 vehicles stuck on the sides of the road.
“I’ve driven up to Tahoe for years, and I’ve never seen it quite like this,” Nelson said.
Gwendolyn Wu is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @gwendolynawu