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Weather

Residents and travelers in the Sierra Nevada endure some of the most severe winter weather in the world. Snowfall measured in feet, wind gusts in excess of 180 mph, destructive avalanches and wind chills far below zero. For more than 150 years, brave men and women have battled the Sierra Storm King for control of his wintry domain. Most winters the Storm King lashes California with torrential rain, which translates into incredibly deep snow depths in the rugged High Sierra.

The annals of Sierra Weather History are replete with ferocious storms that have impacted humans

Mark McLaughlin,
Owner of Mic Mac Publishing

who displayed too much hubris or lacked the skills to survive in such inhospitable conditions. The California-bound Donner Party wagon train of 1846 was trapped at Truckee's Lake by heavy October snowstorms, a stroke of bad luck that trapped them east of the pass for four months. The snowpack peaked at more than 20-feet deep at the lake that winter and ultimately cost 42 men, women and children their lives. Construction of the nation's first transcontinental railroad over Donner Pass in 1868 set the Central Pacific Railroad on a head-on collision course with lethal blizzards and destructive avalanches that continues to this day.

Relentless storms during the winter of 1951-52 dumped 65 feet of snow on Donner Summit. The City of San Francisco luxury streamliner train crowded with 226 passengers and crew members became mired in deep snow drifts and was trapped for three days and nights. Although all 226 people survived, two rescuers gave their lives in selfless and heroic efforts to save them. On March 31, 1982, in the midst of one of the biggest snowstorms in Sierra history, a massive avalanche roared down the slopes at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort. Seven were killed but rescuers never gave up searching for Anna Conrad, buried by snow and debris. She was dug out five days later, and today she skis the Sierra with her children.

Weather Historian, Mark McLaughlin, has written more than 200 articles, many of them dramatic stories based on California, Nevada, and Sierra Weather History. We will also post the fascinating history of the Sierra Storm King, our regional weather protagonist similar in scope and power to Mother Nature and Old Man Winter. Be sure to check out this website for award-winning books and audiotapes dramatizing some of these historic western weather events.

Be sure to check out Tahoe Nuggets for more information on Tahoe weather and climate. Also, you may be interested in our charts of Sierra weather and current storm records.

Northern Sierra Nevada snowfall and precipitation data have been gathered for 130 years, a relatively lengthy weather record for this western mountain range. The record began in 1870 with basic precipitation measurements taken every eight hours by Central Pacific Railroad employees at stations located along the tracks running over Donner Pass. Today's extremely accurate readings are taken by hydrologists, meteorologists, and remote sensors linked to satellites which offer the weatherwise individual real-time analysis.

The weather record of the Sierra Nevada is a window into a climate of phenomenal snowfall and major episodic storm events. Check out the updated list of all-time Sierra snowfall records, including the top 24-hour storm total of 67 inches measured in January 1982, compiled by weather historian Mark McLaughlin. Review a colored bar chart that graphically chronicles 120 years' worth of Donner Summit annual snowfall and snowdepth measurements. (This chart is a large image and takes a few moments to load.). If you are thinking about visiting the Lake Tahoe and Truckee region, check out the precipitation and temperature data chart to play the odds on your favorite weather. Bookmark this webpage and visit again for more additions to Sierra Nevada weather history

Stay Tuned!!

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