Tahoe Nugget #64:
April 1880 - Snowiest on Record (3 Photos)
April 13, 2006
The winter-like storms keep coming. Another Winter Storm Watch has been posted for the Tahoe region this weekend with between 1 to 2 feet of snow expected. Squaw Valley has picked up 7 feet of snow so far this
April, which places them at a bit over 45 feet this season. Kirkwood ski area is up to 792 inches (66 feet) so far, getting within spitting distance of the all-time, Sierra seasonal snowfall record of 884 inches (73
feet) in 1906-07. Kirkwood's upper mountain snowpack is now approaching 29 feet.
People are going crazy after 7 weeks of persistent cloud cover and incessantly stormy weather, but it was much worse in
April 1880. The winter of 1879-80 had been a tough one for Truckee locals, so by the end of March everyone was anticipating warm sunny days ahead. The snow was melting fast and locals were talking boats and fishing.
Despite the prevailing optimism, on April 1, the Sierra was buried under four feet of snow within 24 hours. The rapid buildup caused a massive snow slide, which buried Central Pacific Railroad's tracks under 75 feet
of snow, ice and rock. Racing to the scene, a repair train smashed into a stalled passenger car, nearly killing several occupants asleep in their berths. Hundreds of tough railroad men were deployed to shovel the
tracks to get the line reopened.
For three weeks blizzard conditions raged in the Sierra where the storms dumped a record 298 inches of snow on Donner Summit. Deadly avalanches caused by the continuous heavy
snowfall destroyed miles of snowshed and blockaded the vital trans-Sierra train route for days.
A particularly intense storm blasted the Summit on April 20 and 21, described as "the heaviest and most
protracted ever encountered by the Central Pacific." Rushing to a snowshed cave-in, a special plow train manned by 80 men jumped the icy rails at high speed, ripping through hundreds of feet of snowshed timber.
Amazingly, no one was hurt. Later that same day, fate was kind again when a large avalanche overran a stranded train, sweeping five freight cars into a deep chasm but missing several occupied passenger
Giving no respite, potent storms continued to hammer the mountains. For three days during the middle of the month, two feet fell every 24 hours, completely inundating Truckee. By the third week of
April, with the town buried under 16 feet of snow and the ice measuring 10 feet thick on Donner Lake, the Truckee Republican newspaper proclaimed the storm to be unequaled in living memory.
As the storms churned on without a break, the snow reached incredible depths throughout the region. More than 20 feet of it covered the ground at the McKinney estate on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. John McKinney reported that more than 36 feet fell at his place near Sugar Pine Point that winter, with nearly 17 feet in April. Several massive avalanches as much as half a mile wide roared into the Truckee River canyon north of Tahoe City, destroying homes and temporarily damming the rushing waters of the Truckee.
As May approached, the weather finally cleared, leaving a snowpack nearly 31 feet deep. Donner Summit received almost 67 feet of snow that winter, and more than one-third of it fell in April.
Photo #1: Sierra snowpack is getting deeper as April storms continue to hit the mountains this year. Photo taken April 13, 2006, at Mt. Rose Meadows.
Photo #2: Carnelian Bay snowpack on April 10, 2006.
Photo #3: First floor windows still buried under snow in mid-April 2006.