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Snow snarls Reno traffic as record dry spell ends
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RENO, Nev. (AP) — An inch of snow ended the longest recorded winter dry spell in Reno history early Monday, a 56-day stretch that has forced area ski resorts to make their own snow and prompted unusual January warnings about wildfire threats.

The dusting of snow measured only 0.4 inch of precipitation at Reno-Tahoe International Airport, but it was enough to snarl traffic and force the closure of a stretch of U.S. Interstate 80 as state troopers responded to nearly a dozen accidents, including one involving a patrolman's car.

The trooper was out of his vehicle investigating a wreck near Lockwood when a semi-trailer struck his cruiser from behind, said Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Chuck Allen.

No one was hurt in that crash, but two people suffered minor to moderate injuries in other accidents early Monday, he said.

The light snow and icy conditions caused a five-car crash on the I-80 off ramp at East McCarran and a single-vehicle rollover east of Sparks. A 25-mile stretch of I-80 east of Sparks was closed nearly four hours but reopened about 7 a.m. Monday. Chains or snow tires remained mandatory on most mountain highways at midday.

As much as 2 inches of snow was reported in the foothills of Spanish Springs northeast of Reno, the National Weather Service said.

But, for the most part, the storm bypassed the top of the Sierra with only 1 inch of snow reported at the Mount Rose Ski Resort near Reno, Squaw Valley USA near Tahoe City, Calif., and Boreal near Truckee, Calif.

Monday's snowfall was the first precipitation in Reno since Nov. 20. The previous record dry spell between the months of November and March was 54 days, ending on Jan. 24, 1961, the weather service said.

Reno ended 2011 year with its driest December in nearly 130 years after the month concluded without any precipitation. The last time that happened was 1883.

Including the 0.4 inch recorded early Monday, Reno has received a total of 0.9 inch of precipitation since Nov. 1 — about one-third the normal 2.73 inches for that period, the service said.

More significant snowfall is in the forecast by the end of the week, but officials at Heavenly ski resort at South Lake Tahoe said they couldn't wait. They opened the Skyline Trail linking the Nevada and California sides of the mountain on Monday after snowmaking crews and groomers combined to cover more than 4,830 feet of the run.

Heavenly General Manager Pete Sonntag said crews used a chairlift to help transport the snow to the top of the mountain then pushed it down the run.

"We hope this is a project we never have to do again. But with natural snow being tough to come by this season, we felt that opening Skyline was a critical component to the overall experience for our guests," Sonntag said.