Astronomers atop Mt. Hamilton talk snowfall impacts, power loss, and dangerous travel

Amanda del Castillo Image
Thursday, March 2, 2023
Astronomers atop Mt. Hamilton talk dangerous conditions from snowfall
Around 30 staffers who live on-site at the top of Mt. Hamilton in the South Bay have been dealing with dangerous driving conditions, power loss, and other impacts from the rare snows.

MT. HAMILTON, Calif. (KGO) -- Days of snowfall atop Mount Hamilton in the South Bay have made for dangerous driving conditions and power loss among other impacts. Mount Hamilton Road, leading to the Lick Observatory, remains closed to visitors.

"Right now, there's only one way in and one way out," resident astronomer Dr. Paul Lynam said, describing the current snow-covered drive up and down Mt. Hamilton.

SKY7 highlighted reasons why the road remains closed to visitors, with barricades manned by law enforcement.

VIDEO: Here's a look at what the Sierra faced as snow buried homes, cars

It is an absolute mess in the Sierra with homes and cars buried in snow and an avalanche that slammed into a building in Olympic Valley in Tahoe.

Dr. Lynam is one of about 30 staffers who live on-site. Since Feb. 22, he said the official count is a cumulative amount of 39 inches of snow to date.

"The previous two years, there's been barely a drop of precipitation on Mt. Hamilton, in '21 and '22. So this is almost a return to normal," he described. "The unusual thing about this winter so far, and certainly this February and the recent snowstorms, is that it's been a lot in a very short contained space of time over a few days."

This has certainly made travel treacherous. Beyond impacts to mobility, the observatory recently lost power and is running on a diesel generator. Any effort to replenish diesel supplies will come in the next few days, he said.

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"Once it gets dark, it will freeze and there will be black ice and it will be extraordinarily dangerous on the road," resident astronomer Dr. Elinor Gates explained. "So I'll just have to be super careful. Now, those of us that live here on Mt. Hamilton are used to the more dangerous driving conditions because we experienced them every year."

Gates said because she and others are living in such a remote location, the community is prepared for such scenarios and has stocked pantries.

She also shared a number of photos with ABC7 News, showing snow-covered roads.

VIDEO: Clear skies pave way for families to enjoy snow on Mt. Diablo

Many Bay Area residents went up to Mt. Diablo ion Wednesday to enjoy the recent snowfall.

"Snowfall this heavy is super rare and I wanted to have my own memories of how beautiful it is to offset my painful memories of how sore I am from all the shoveling I've been doing," Gates described.

Resident staffers, much like Caltrans, have also been working to clear roads. Despite the conditions, both astronomers assure none of the staff are stranded.

Though, from a distance, they have witnessed people attempting to ascend Mt. Hamilton Road.

"We would appeal to people to still respect the signage, not to come up to the mountain, because not only supplies but emergency vehicles need that access in case people do find themselves in difficulty," Dr. Lynam said.

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