Day 4 after the start of the winter storm that devastated a large portion of Nevada County, among other Sierra Nevada counties. Roads are still impassable due to down trees and power lines, no power for 17,437 utility power customers, no phone or internet for thousands, no heat and problems getting food, water and medications. On the other hand, a declared local emergency, a task force of local, state and utility crews, hundreds of first responders, public works, local government staff and residents of the community helping each other. Where are we at?

Power outages to last several more days, according to PG&E spokesperson

PG&E’s government liaison for the area, Brandon Sanders, was present at today’s BOS meeting to provide an update. Sanders stated that “a fairly substantial influx of workers” both from other PG&E areas as well as contract crews from other utilities are arriving to bolster the efforts of the local repair crews. Asked about estimates on utility power restoration, Sanders responded the current outages would, in all likelihood, take several more days to resolve.

Task Force begins work

The County Roads Department, CAL FIRE, and PG&E have deployed a joint task force to clear hazards and reopen critical roadways. They deployed two teams with a County snow plow, Cal Fire engine and saw teams, and PG&E bucket truck in each team today in the Cascade Shores and Alta Sierra areas. More teams are being assembled.

This morning’s briefing of the task force at CAL FIRE’s Station 20 in Nevada City. Photo courtesy NCSO

Where power lines or poles are down, the county roads crews must wait for PG&E to deactivate the lines before they can be moved safely. This team approach will expedite the process of reopening impacted neighborhoods, with CAL FIRE Nevada-Yuba-Placer firefighters trained in removing hazard trees safely. The task force approach is a first and builds on the mutual aid system between Cal Fire NEU and Nevada County.

211 continues to provide resources

The County is partnering with 211 to maintain a list of gas stations, grocery stores, and hardware stores that are currently open to the public. Please call 211 for more information. Just dial 2-1-1 or 1-833-DIAL211.

Do you own or manage a local business that is currently selling essentials like gas, food, ice, and water? Please let 211 know by filling out this simple form.

Emergency declared and ratified

During the Board of Supervisors (BOS) special meeting this afternoon, the BOS adopted the emergency declaration issued on Monday by the county’s Office of Emergency Services (OES.) Nevada County was the first county to declare the local emergency due to the magnitude of the storm and the damage sustained, followed by Humboldt County, also on Monday. Calaveras, El Dorado and Placer counties followed on Tuesday and Amador County declared a local emergency today.

The declaration on Monday allowed OES to reach out to other jurisdictions and request mutual aid, just like fire departments during a wildfire. Glenn County sent a grader to help with road clearing, Sacramento County sent a large generator to power the community room at the Madelyn Helling Library that served as an overnight warming shelter and now as a daytime warming shelter and charging station. More help is incoming.

The emergency declaration also is the first step to request a similar declaration from the Governor and the federal government if needed. Later today, both Nevada City and Grass Valley city councils will have special meetings to ratify their own state of emergency.

December 30, 2021 at 5:00 PM Editor’s note: Shortly after publication, California Governor Newsom declared a state of emergency in Alameda, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Humboldt, Lake, Los Angeles, Marin, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Placer, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Sierra, and Yuba counties due to these winter storms.

Report damage and help us shine a light on the issues

You know the “If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s nobody around to hear, does it make a sound?” saying. It’s fair to say whole forests fell down in this storm and our job is to report to you and the outside world what is happening.

We created a simple form to fill out and we use the data collected to map the extent of damages and continue reporting on the issues. The data layer is publicly available and has been shared with Nevada County OES.

We’re under no illusion that everyone will report damage to us, many residents have neither power nor connectivity. But, those who do help this picture to come more and more into focus. Thank you for taking the time.

The hotspots so far

Based on the reports received and PG&E’s power outage map, Alta Sierra and the Hwy 174 corridor have been hit extremely hard.

Neighbors helping neighbors

Many readers have shared stories of neighbors helping neighbors. Clearing trees, sharing supplies and rides into town, helping to free cars stuck in the snow.

The community’s generosity is evident, as are the efforts of local government agencies and non-profits. We are indeed all in this together.

Like a wildfire

In many ways, this storm and the response to it reminds this reporter of a wildfire. On Sunday night, the first reports of power outages came in and listed about 80 customers. By Monday morning 5:30 am, we posted that 28,931 customers were out of power in western Nevada County. The damage reports have increased, as have the response and resources.

The difference is that some of the utilities may not have prepared for this storm that was forecast and messaged for over a week ahead of time. No backup generators for phone and communication lines, no staging of repair personnel. These steps are routinely taken during high fire season or Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS.)

The mutual aid is another familiar aspect of disaster response. Local and state agencies are working together. If a State or federal disaster declaration is forthcoming, more resources will be available in short order to help all of us.

More storms on the horizon

Meanwhile, if you can, prepare for next week’s storm. According to the National Weather Service in Sacramento, “snow levels will start out around 2500 to 4000 ft late Monday, then quickly rise on Tuesday to 4500 to 6000 ft. Strong southerly winds will be a concern as falling snow and drifting snow will severely limit visibilities.”

With the ground already saturated, flooding could be a concern. Please, stay safe!