Late Winter/Early Spring Snow
Always Possible

Sunny warm weather in the Sierra, when it occurs in the latter half of winter and early spring, has a tendency to produce (in the mind of one not familiar with the area's meteorological history) a misplaced sense of euphoria over the approach of spring. However, predicting winter's departure is no more possible than correctly forecasting the arrival of its first flakes, and in the high country some memorable "winter days" are, by the calendar, well into spring.

The year 1958 followed such a pattern, with an Easter Week blizzard notes as the heaviest April storm on record at that time. A total accumulation of eight feet of new snow at the 6000 foot level caused slides which for three days closed the River Road linking Tahoe City and Truckee, and highways 40 (now interstate 80) and 50 were both closed for several days.

Donner Summit received 104 inches of new snow in the first four days of the storm, bringing the pack to more than 20 feet. Power and phone outtages as a result of the siege of weather were minimal, reported the April 11 Tahoe Tattler, thanks to the diligence of maintenance crews. "Mountain folk were reminded of the winter of '52," the Tattler reported, "as they waxed up their clam guns and prepared to dig out."

Local ski areas were all closed for a few days while able-bodied personnel shovelled. Some equipment sustained heavy damage as a result of the storm; Squaw Valley's then famous Sky Chair was put out of commission for the balance of the ski season.

Memorial Day weekend of 1971 was another white one on the West Shore. After a heavier-than-normal snow year, a true feeling of spring had begun to surface in the days and weeks preceding the holiday, and groups both large and small (including a Sierra Club party of 40) had begun gathering at the northern terminus of the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail (west of Meeks Bays) in preparation for departure on a camping trip to the high country of Desolation Valley.

Sunny weather prevailed as the weekend began, with a light breeze pushing fluffy clouds across the sky and nothing more menacing promised for the long weekend. However, before the holiday was over, Mother Nature had pulled one of her typical surprises; in the dark of night, a freak storm dropped 16 inches of snow at lake level, with up to two feet at higher elevations - sending the hikers scurring back down the mountain like so many soggy bugs.

The winter of 1981-82 was a severe one, and by March the fervent hope in most local hearts was for early spring. However the evening of March 27, a light snow began to fall, and by early the next morning it was evident that a spring storm of some magnitude had settled in.

Almost continuous snow for the next four days stacked up drifts of several feet and on March 31 came the news that a tremendous avalanche at Alpine Meadows had destroyed part of the lodge and killed several persons - the fatalities totalling seven by the time rescuers finished their search. By April 4, 1982, many west shore residents were still snowed in, though county and private plows were working around the clock to clear roads which for the preceding week had received a daily foot or so of new white stuff.

Measurable snow in the Tahoe Basin has been recorded in every month of the year, though of course summer storms at lake level are short-lived and represent inconvenience rather than danger. But should a few days of April sunshine lead you to thoughts of spring, remember the virtue of patience and have another ski. It's not over yet.

By Carol Van Etten

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