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Donner Party

donner peak

Railroad snowsheds protect trains
 and track below Donner Peak.

The members of the Donner Party didn't know it, but unseasonably early winter storms had dumped more than five feet of snow on the mountain pass they needed to cross before reaching the safety of California. A severe blizzard during the last week of October 1846 had buried the upper elevations of the Sierra Nevada and blocked the trail into Northern California. The Donner Party, a late-arriving emigrant wagon train, was trapped east of the Sierra crest and ultimately snowbound for much of the winter of 1847.

The Pacific-bound pioneers had been on the trail for five months, a strenuous trek through rugged mountains and searing deserts. As they approached the Sierra Nevada range, it had to be beyond their collective imagination that they were about to spend the next four to five months snowbound in the High Sierra, pushed to the limits of human endurance, and beyond.

Up until now, much of what historians knew of the weather that winter came from a few diary entries and recollections of survivors and rescuers after the event. Official precipitation observations did not begin in California until 1849 when weather data collection began in San Francisco.

The historical record has finally been updated with the arrival of Mark McLaughlin's newest book, The Donner Party: Weathering the Storm . This well-illustrated and enjoyable book chronicles weather conditions and storm events in Northern California and the mountains during the winter of 1847. Using diaries, ship log records, eyewitness accounts, memoirs, books, letters, newspaper articles, military journals, physical artifacts and National Weather Service climatology, McLaughlin integrates early instrument-derived weather records and written contemporary accounts into the narrative to help us understand how the extreme weather conditions in the winter of '47 impacted the Donner Party and the heroic men trying to rescue them.

Get Weathering the Storm now for only $19.95 which includes tax and free media mail shipping!

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