RENO, Nev. — Google doesn’t always know best.
Despite warnings to avoid travel after a massive snowstorm that started Christmas weekend closed major highways, thousands of people insisted on trying to drive into or out of the socked-in Sierra Nevada.
Some needed to get home. Some wanted to visit family. Some just wanted to play in the snow.
Some were led astray by poor judgement. Many were led astray by Google Maps, which offered alternate driving routes that sent drivers to snowy dead ends.
Northern California Highway Patrol reported a serious problem on Quincy-La Porte Road, which locals know closes each winter and becomes a haven for snowmobilers.
But Google Maps doesn’t.
When Interstate 80 closed, Google Maps offered up Quincy-La Porte Road as an alternate route. Hundreds of drivers tried that route.
“It shows on the map it will go through, but there’s always a gate closed in the winter,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Brian Danielson, who works out of the Yuba-Sutter office.
The two plows designated for the area got stuck and there were already hundreds of cars up there, Danielson said.
“Those plows even had to get pulled out,” he said. “That’s how bad it was.
“There were trees fallen across the road, power lines down. Some people just have the mentality, ‘I can get around this.’”
Hundreds of cars piled up on the road over the weekend, eventually driving CHP to post “STOP TRYING TO USE THE BACKROADS TO GET TO NEVADA!” on social media.
Nevada Highway Patrol was not immune from the shenanigans.
Officer Charles Caster said he stopped a driver on Sunday who had 30 inches of snow atop his Ford Bronco. Caster told him to clear the snow from his vehicle before driving, and the driver replied, “Well, you should have seen it before.”
There was the man who stopped in the middle of traffic on U.S. 580 in south Reno to fix the cable on his tire. The one, single cable (four are strongly recommended.)
And there was the man who wanted to take his wife to dinner at the Ritz Carlton in North Tahoe. Caster stopped him from trying to go up Mt. Rose Highway, which was closed, and the man said he would try another route.
“A three-hour drive just to go to dinner just because they came up to see the snow. These are the types of people who have no experience in the snow who may want to think twice,” Caster said.
Caster told the man it wasn’t the day to try to get up to Tahoe.
“I don’t know how far he made it, or if he made it.”
On Monday, Washoe County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Specialized Vehicle Unit and Incident Management Team rescued a family of five from the Dog Valley/Henness Pass roads area after the family tried to take the road on their way from Southern California to Truckee.
While attempting to bypass the Interstate 80 closure, the family, which included children as young as 5, detoured onto the two-lane dirt road, which was buried in snow. They were stranded for two hours.
There are illuminated signs warning drivers not to use Dog Valley/Henness Pass roads.
“However, the family’s GPS won the battle of which technology to listen to,” according to a Facebook post from the Sheriff’s Office.
From Sunday to Monday, Yuba-Sutter CHP’s graveyard crew ended up working a 20-hour shift rescuing a family trapped in a Suburban who had passed three road closure signs and were stuck in the snow.
One plow got stuck. Then a second.
Jeremy Alcala, who owns B&K Towing, the only towing service in the region, was able to reach the family. But before he and CHP could safely tow them out, they had to wait for PG&E to clear downed power lines that had fallen during the attempt to rescue the family.
“We’ve been running our butts off. A bunch of non-local people who haven’t wanted to read a sign,” said Krishna Alcala, who works as dispatcher for B&K Towing.
She said the family in the Suburban was trying to get to Chicago.
“It’s been very frustrating,” she said. “We’ve certainly never had a winter like this where people just don’t listen.”
A lot of people think they can drive through the Quincy area when Interstate 80 is closed, said Quincy CHP Commander Chris Parent.
“When people don’t normally drive in these conditions or they’re not seeing the signs that require chains, then they just end up in chest-high snow in a Honda Civic,” said Parent. “And it’s not going to work.”