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Blizzard of '08 leaves 11 feet of snow in the Sierras

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 2:12 PM GMT on January 07, 2008

The blizzard of '08 is over in hard-hit California, Oregon, and Washington, but the storm has left in its wake flooding, downed power lines, and prodigious amounts of snow. In the Sierra Mountains, 4-8 feet of snow were common. At the Kirkwood ski resort near Lake Tahoe, an astounding 11 feet of snow fell in just 72 hours--10 feet of that in only 48 hours.

Figure 1. Cleared tracks on the Southern Pacific Railway at Blue Canyon during the winter of 1917. Some of the heaviest snow in North America occurs in the Sierra Nevada Mountains; 60 to 65 feet of snow is not uncommon in a winter season. In: "Monthly Weather Review," October 1919, p. 698. Image credit: NOAA Photo Library.

The massive Tahoe snows from this storm are not a record, however, however. According to Chris Burt's book Extreme Weather, in April 1880, an incredible storm dropped 16 feet of snow (194 inches) in just four days on Norden, near Donner Summit in the Sierras. This stands as the greatest amount of snow ever recorded from a single storm anywhere in the world. The total snowfall that winter at the Summit station (7,017 feet) was a whopping 783" (over 65 feet). An even greater amount was recorded during the winter of 1951-1952 at Donner Summit--815" (over 67 feet). The Southern Pacific Railroad's flagship, the City of San Francisco, was trapped by an avalanche near Yuba Pass on January 13 during that winter. The train lost power, and food for the 226 passengers nearly ran out by the time rescuers arrived. Another bad storm occurred on January 9-10, 1890, when ten feet of snow fell, blocking the rail line and stranding train passengers for days. One of those trapped was New York newspaper woman Nellie Bly, who was attempting to travel 'round the world in 80 days, besting the heroes of Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days. She was forced to detour to the south via the Southern Pacific Railway, and made it back to New York in under 73 days.

Jeff Masters
Pacifica Storm
Pacifica Storm
30 foot waves far off the coast caused a little excitement in the town of Pacifica, just south of San Francisco.
Nice hat
Nice hat
The snow just keeps on coming.

Winter Weather

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