The Snowiest Winters in Tahoe History: The Two-Month Blizzard of 1895

With a historical winter currently blanketing the Lake Tahoe region, we decided to dive deep into the history of epic snowfall in the Basin. We have found the snowiest winters in Tahoe’s recorded history, based in the North Lake Tahoe Region near Donner Summit.

Downtown Truckee was buried during a two-month blizzard in 1895. Photo courtesy of the Truckee Donner Historical Society.

In December of 1894, a series of intense Pacific storms brought significant amounts of snow to the Tahoe-Sierra region. By the first day of winter, the town of Truckee had already been buried under 80 inches of snow, while the Norden train station near Donner Pass had a snowpack of over 10 feet. The snowstorms continued into January, creating significant disruptions to daily life in Truckee. Pedestrians had to climb steps cut into the snow to cross the streets, and restaurants set up outdoor snow caves to serve customers on clear days.

Despite the inconvenience to locals, the heavy snowfall proved to be a major attraction for winter sports enthusiasts and tourists. The Southern Pacific Railroad arranged weekend excursion trains to Truckee, allowing visitors to take part in the winter carnival and enjoy the snow. The Donner Pass region saw 22 feet of snowfall in January alone, making it the second consecutive month with nearly three times the normal precipitation.

In total, the December 1894 and January 1895 storms brought 50 inches of precipitation to the area, which is equivalent to a whole winter’s worth of snow and rain in just eight weeks. The remainder of the winter season was mild, but the massive snowfall in December and January contributed enough snow to bring the total amount at Norden to 685 inches (57 feet), making it the seventh-snowiest winter on record. The 503 inches (42 feet) of snow that fell during those two months alone came just one inch shy of the United States record for a two-month period, which was measured in January and February 1925 at the Paradise Ranger Station at Mt. Rainier in Washington State.

These massive snowstorms in December and January of 1894-1895 not only created opportunities for winter tourism, but they also had a lasting impact on the region. The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is essential for California’s water supply, and the winter snows replenish the state’s reservoirs and aquifers. During the winter of 1894-1895, the heavy snowfall played a critical role in ensuring that the region had an adequate water supply for the coming year.

Stay tuned for our next edition of The Snowiest Winters in Tahoe History

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Telling the Stories of Northern California


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