Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Mid-Winter's Tale

Today is the mid-point of winter. It's half over. Most of our snow has so far sailed over our heads and landed on a lot of you. It's been extreme for some of you folks so I thought I'd try and cheer ya up. Here's an article from yesterday's Sierra Sun, my local paper, by noted area historian Mark McLaughlin about the most severe winter around here ever. I hope it makes you feel better.

Weather patterns were erratic during the winter of 1938, Tahoe's biggest winter. Heavy rain in December 1937 caused major flood damage, but by mid-January there was less than a foot of snow covering the high country. Colder storms finally ripped into the region at the end of January, blasting residents with 12 feet of snow in less than a week. It was the opening salvo of an epic three-week storm.

In February, severe blizzards buried Tahoe communities with more than 9 feet of snow in seven days. At one point, Tahoe City was completely isolated with no automobile traffic and all communication cut off. For 10 days the overwhelming snow shut down Southern Pacific's horse-drawn, express mail and passenger stageline between Truckee and Tahoe City. Small towns throughout the Sierra were inundated by the snowfall. Tahoe City and Truckee residents endured in relative safety, though those areas received 17 feet of new snow within 16 days. There were no mail deliveries to the North Shore for more than a week and no fresh food for twice that long.

By Valentine's Day, the snow was 20 feet deep on Donner Summit. During a rare break in the weather, the steamer that regularly circled Lake Tahoe with mail and deliveries arrived back in Tahoe City. The captain mentioned if anyone wanted some horsemeat, it was available at Glenbrook, Nev. Apparently a caretaker there shot a horse due to injury and was willing to share the meat if anyone was interested. The story spread to San Francisco and even Los Angeles that snowbound Tahoe residents were running out of food. On Feb. 17, the San Francisco Examiner quoted Tahoe City Constable Harry Johanson as saying he was “holding in reserve 1,000 pounds of fresh horsemeat, should the situation get serious and the need for fresh meat become acute.”

California Governor Merriam was alerted and the San Francisco Call Bulletin newspaper enlisted United Airlines to organize an emergency food drop at Tahoe City. Local residents built signal fires in the middle of the Tahoe City Golf Course and that night two airplanes swung in low, dropping 10 boxes of bread, meat and vegetables. Half the boxes shattered when they hit trees, but the remainder was retrieved by cross-country skiers and distributed around the community.

The winter of '38 started late, but made up for it with powerful storms in February. By May, a record 67 feet of snow had buried Donner Pass, the greatest snowfall in Tahoe history.

67 feet of snow "made up" for a "late start" to winter! Sometimes I think we're fuckin' crazy around here. Heh.

This year, we had an early start to winter but there's not much snow* left at my house and the weather has been very nice and I hope that pattern will continue for you as well.

*Coupla feet or less on the ground, bare ground around the trees. "Not much" can turn into "waaaaaay too much" overnight of course, but like the fellow who jumped off the 30th floor said as he went by the 15th floor, "so far, so good".

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