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Tahoe Nugget #182:

Tahoe Easter Snowstorms
April 5, 2010

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, the second powerful winter-type storm in less than a week slammed the Lake Tahoe region and dumped up to 34 inches of fresh powder on our local ski resorts.
Nugget #182 April 5 Property Snowfall #1
Property in Carnelian Bay April 5, 2010

 It's always exhilarating in April or May when the dark cloud cover from a cold storm breaks, and the sun is revealed high in the sky, the light bright and warm. Frigid temperatures usually take only a day or two to rebound back into the 50s.
Nugget #182 April 5 #2 Property Snowfall
Property in Carnelian Bay April 5, 2010

 For the lucky skier or boarder on the slopes after one of these storms, the powder can be thigh deep while the blazing sun shows off the textured, subtle features on the snow surface, which gives confidence to push speed and steepness. Spring skiing in Tahoe is Great!

For most Tahoe-Truckee ski areas, the week or two after the Easter holiday represents the end of the season. There just aren't enough people buying tickets to make it worthwhile economically to staff the resort. But just because most of the chairlifts stop turning in April doesn't mean that winter is over. In fact, some of the worst storms of the season occur after the official end of winter.

Old timers may remember the Easter storm of 1958 that slammed the Sierra with phenomenal snowfall. Similar to this year, an El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean markedly influenced the winter of 1957-58. Most of California received above average precipitation that year and the Tahoe -Truckee region was no exception. Frequent storms lashed the state with wind, rain and snow. Cold storms in March generated a rash of severe thunderstorms and unprecedented tornado activity.

But unlike this year when the current Sierra snowpack is barely above average in water content, the active weather pattern in 1958 made it the
wettest season in 90 years.

By early April 1958, Sierra ski resorts were boasting a 15-foot snowpack and resort managers were praying for good weather during the traditionally busy Easter vacation. Unfortunately for all concerned, one of the worst storms of the year barreled into the region just in time for Easter week. Heavy snow fell in the Sierra, occasionally as low as 1,500 feet, while snow slides stopped all transportation through the mountains for several days. A dozen large avalanches near the River Ranch outside of Tahoe City closed the road for nearly a week.

In 1958, Interstate 80 was not yet completed over the Sierra. The original old Highway 40 over Donner Pass was closed for five days by the storm. Tremendous cornice overhangs posed a hazard to vehicles and then a massive mud slide more than six feet deep added to the challenge of clearing the road.

At Norden, 10 feet of snow fell in five days while at Soda Springs the weather station was buried under snow 22 feet deep. On April 4, 1958, the snowpack at the highest elevations exceeded 27 feet.
Nugget #182 1958 April Shovel cabin roof006-01
Digging out a Donner Lake cabin in April 1958

 Lake Tahoe ski resorts took the brunt of the storm; Heavenly Valley ski area was the only mountain operation able to remain open during the blizzard. At Squaw Valley, construction crews preparing the site for the upcoming 1960 Winter Olympics were shut down by the heavy snowfall. Planners for the Games had been hoping for a mild winter so that spring construction could get an early start.
Nugget #182 1958 April Shoveling Carson Whitel
Donner Lake resident and award-winning ski writer Carson White (with his son Charlie) shoveling out their car during the Easter storm of 1958. Courtesy Vi White.

Sugar Bowl ski resort on Donner Summit was hit hardest of all. A massive avalanche wiped out three towers on the Mt. Lincoln double chairlift , closing it for the season. Ski racers competing there during the mid-April Far West Ski Association divisional alpine championships endured long, exhausting hikes to the top before the start of each downhill run.

Springtime in the Sierra enjoys a well-deserved reputation for beautiful sunny days, but the April showers that bring May flowers sometimes arrive wrapped in a thick blanket of white.

Video Clip: Quick (low resolution) glimpse at driving over Donner Pass yesterday just before the Easter storm hit

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