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2024 Miracle March Blizzard in Tahoe

The 2022/2023 record-breaking winter in the Sierra was really something. Bringing 754 inches of snow (measured from October through May by Central Sierra Snow Lab at Donner Summit), officially, it was the second snowiest on record since 1946 – but the snowiest season of the last 70 years.

Central Sierra Snow Lab Snowfall Chart

Which also meant, come spring/summer 2023, all the rivers, lakes, and reservoirs were brimming full.

Fast-forward to the start of the 2023/2024 winter season. In December 2023, the Sierra Nevada snowpack was a mere 37% of average. Quite a stark departure from the previous winter. All the skeptics and Debbie-Downers were throwing up their hands, writing off this winter as a dry year. It turns out, though, the snowfall delay until January 2024 was a blessing. Had we gotten dumped on earlier in the season this year, we would have likely contended with widespread floods, so say the reservoir management folks. Perhaps the snow came just when it was supposed to come this year.

Despite the "dry" start with a sparse 32 inches by year's end, in January 2024, the season's snowpack tripled to about 105 inches. By the end of February, Tahoe had gotten over 213 inches of snow on the season. To date in March, the total season snowfall has grown to nearly 297 inches of snow. That's 84 inches in the first 2 weeks of March.

2023-2024 Sierra Snowfall Totals Chart
Courtesy: Central Sierra Snow Lab:

Here's how that played out for us in real life.

About a week before the storm hit Tahoe, we were getting weather alerts for blizzard conditions with 50-mph wind gusts and snow accumulating in feet, even at lake level.

In the days leading up to the storm, we made trips to the grocery store to stock up and the gas station to ensure our vehicles (and snowblowers) had enough to get through at least the next week, in case the trucks weren't able to travel up here to deliver more.

We kept a frequent eye on the forecast and wondered if we'd get as much snow at our house as they were predicting. It seemed we'd be getting "a lot" of snow, we just weren't sure how much – somewhere between 1 and 12 feet. Predictions showed the bulk of the snow would be falling over the first weekend of March; however, the storm was supposed to continue for an entire week.

On Thursday, February 29 around 11:00 a.m. the snow started and it did not stop until Sunday, March 3, which is also when the forecast changed, showing trace amounts of snow the rest of the week. I will admit, at the time, I was not disappointed to hear that.

By Sunday afternoon, 40 inches of snow had accumulated at our house at 6,600 ft. since Thursday. Friends of ours who live above 7,000 ft. got at least twice that amount. For three straight days, all we did was shovel and snow blow. We'd finish clearing the decks and driveway, and in no time, another 12 inches would fall. The first time we shoveled our front deck, it had 25 inches on it.

The majority of the streets around town were only plowed for one lane, including State Highway 431 (Mt. Rose Hwy), the primary route from North Lake Tahoe down to Reno.

When I got up Saturday morning, I saw a guy out on the street in front of our house frantically trying to dig out his stuck Subaru with a shovel.

Still in our pajamas, we geared up for the cold and trudged through the snow to see if we could help him.

His tires had spun all the way down to the icy pavement, so he had no traction whatsoever, and he was now high-centered in the unplowed snow, and our pushing from behind wasn't budging the car an inch. My husband offered to try and drive it out, but not even that was going to free the car from the snow. I asked him if he was going to go get the Jeep next and winch him out.

At this time in the morning, however, we hadn't yet cleared our driveway, never mind clearing the snow off the Jeep... it would take some doing to get the Jeep from the top of our driveway and over the waist-high berm at the end of it in order to winch out the Subaru. My husband thought he wouldn't even need to get the Jeep over the berm; he could just stop at the end of our driveway and reach the winch cable across the street to the Subaru.

So, we trudged back up our driveway and just as we started to clear some snow off the Jeep, one of the Subaru driver's buddies drove up in a pickup truck and was able to tug him out of the hole he was in. That was the start to our Saturday.

Interstate 80 was closed. Mt. Rose Highway was eventually closed, but while it was still open, my husband drove up it to the edge of our town in the middle of the storm and had to winch out two different vehicles that were extremely stuck. Needless to say, it was one heck of a weekend.

This was the road condition of State Rte 28 on Monday evening. It's a 45-mph highway and the fastest we could drive was 25 mph. We were in the Jeep and I told my husband we'd been on smoother forest roads.

Views from Hwy 431 (Mt. Rose Hwy).

Avalanche zone on Hwy 431.


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