Is Washoe Valley's weather really the worst?

Cathleen AllisonBuildings and Grounds maintenance worker Jose Aguirre takes down Christmas lights in front of the Governor's Mansion on Wednesday afternoon.

Cathleen AllisonBuildings and Grounds maintenance worker Jose Aguirre takes down Christmas lights in front of the Governor's Mansion on Wednesday afternoon.

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A trip across Washoe Valley, especially with winter storms scraping the Sierra Nevada, can yield everything from blowing snow and sunshine to rain and fierce wind -- all on the same trip.

It's weather daily commuter Charlie Giguiere, general manager of Michael Hohl Honda Subaru, calls "very unpredictable, obviously windy. Dramatic."

On any given day, travelers into Washoe Valley's flat, nine-mile stretch may be greeted by signs that flash wind advisory warnings and, sometimes, flat out prohibit anyone traveling in something bigger than a Dodge from crossing the valley.

But, despite its reputation as the best place to be buffeted by the famed Washoe zephyr, Washoe Valley residents insist their weather isn't worse than anywhere else in Northern Nevada.

"A lot of people think it's a lot windier in Washoe Valley than anywhere else," one Washoe Valley resident said. "I don't think that's necessarily the case. The wind in Carson City can be as bad as it is in Washoe Valley. I don't see a huge difference in the weather."

Geographically, though, there are a few a differences between Washoe Valley and its neighbors which may make the weather seem worse for motorists than for residents.

First of all, at 5,100 feet, Washoe Valley sits about 400 feet above Carson City and 700 feet above Reno. Roger Lamoni, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, said drivers may not notice the elevation change because the focus on the towering Sierra makes the difference seem subtle.

But the change is the equivalent of being in Eagle Valley and looking to the top of Prison Hill or standing at the Reno Airport and looking toward the North Valleys area, he said.

"Elevation makes a difference. If it's raining in Carson City or Reno, odds are it will be snowing in Washoe Valley," Lamoni said. "Since it's higher, it's affected more by wind."

Highway 395 hugs the mountains for most of the trip between the two cities, but in Washoe Valley the road is "positioned in just the right spot to catch (the wind) at it's strongest," said Rick Nelson, district engineer for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

Nelson said the weather station in the center of the valley trips the signs to "advisory" positions at 15 mph sustained winds or 30 mph gusts in any 10-minute period. The wind, which has been measured over 75 mph, trips the "trucks and trailers prohibited" sensors at 30 mph sustained winds or with a 40 mph gust in any 10 minute period.

Atmospheric scientist Elizabeth Carter, president of Tahoe-based Firnspiegel, said cars going through are hit perfectly by the wind so that motorists feel the brunt of the valley's winter.

Carter conducted a wind study for Lightning W Ranch, now Thunder Canyon, in 1994 in which she noted the wind at the private golf course and country club was no worse than at other course in Reno and Carson City. But the golf course is closer to the mountains, which protect most of the valley's west side from the worst of the weather.

"When it's windy there, it's windy in Carson City and Reno," she said.

Long-time Washoe Valley resident Ed Caton said, except for a bit more snow, the weather is no worse in Washoe Valley than elsewhere along the Eastern Sierra.

"I'm tickled to death with the weather," Caton said. "It's not any worse than anywhere else. If it ain't blowing here, it will blow somewhere else.

"Sure the weather bothers you sometimes. It's miserable sometimes to go through the snow to feed your cows, but I don't know where else I'd want to go to live."

A five-year commuter between Reno and Carson City, Giguiere has been escorted several times through Washoe Valley's long, open stretch at 20 mph by the Nevada Highway Patrol and has taken the two alternate routes along Washoe Lake's east shore and Franktown Road more than once because of the wind.

"It can be dramatic," he said. "Seeing some overturned big rigs was rather dramatic. I thought, 'Wow. That guy probably missed the sign that said tractors and trailers prohibited."

Jeff Moates, owner of the General Nutrition Store, said in his 10 months of commuting, he hasn't been bothered by the weather through the valley.

"I've gone through a few times in the last month or so where the visibility was pretty much nonexistent," he said. "It hasn't been too bad. There have been a couple days with high winds and whiteouts. I worry more about the other people on the road than myself. They go flying by and they can't even see where they're going."


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