Global Warming at Lake Tahoe and Donner Pass


While AccuWeather reports that this is the warmest winter weather in the United States on record, you will find something quite different in Lake Tahoe and definitely stay away from Donner Pass.

Over the weekend, the area was hit with four feet of snow, and they are bracing for a possible accumulation of twelve feet. Route 80 has been closed, and truck drivers and cars have been stranded. Route 80 will remain closed on Monday.


A brutal winter storm and fierce winds with driving snow hit California’s Sierra mountains, stranding motorists and truck drivers near and at Donner Pass.

By early Saturday, they had more than three feet of snow-covered Donner Summit with no sign of stopping. Donner Summit lies along Interstate 80 just northwest of Lake Tahoe.

California Highway patrol took several hours to get emergency vehicles and tow trucks onto route. I 80 to reach motorists who were stranded at Donna Summit. They rescued the motorists and truck drivers and then started to clear the highway.

Truckee Lake Tahoe


Donner Pass was famous for an expedition in 1846 that ended in cannibalism and the murder of two native Americans. They were traveling by wagon train when snow like this trapped them. It looked like the snow you see now but without any sign of civilization.

The party was doomed when they took an untested shortcut which cost them several weeks as they tried to hack their way through forest.

Only 45 of the original 81 members of the Donner Party survived, 32 of them children. Most were physically scarred from frostbite and malnutrition, and psychologically disturbed by the horrors of what they experienced in the camps, and what they had to do to survive.

There were four rescue missions sent to rescue the Donner Party. Some of the hardiest men took off to get help and gradually started to die on the way down the mountain. Two Natives who came to help them were killed by one of the men in the party and callously eaten.

The first relief mission brought a limited amount of food and escorted those travelers down the mountain who thought they could make the trek. Many didn’t make it.


James Reed, a lawyer from Illinois, was an organizer of the trip and had gotten into an argument with an oxen driver – a teamster – and killed him. The travelers decided to banish Reed, whose family stayed on the wagon train. Reed crossed the Sierra before the snow fell when he found out about the fate of the travelers.

He desperately tried to raise money for a second expedition to save the travelers and his family. As he tried to return, he was sidetracked by skirmishes with Mexico. He fought the Battle of Santa Clara and talked some fellow soldiers into rescuing the travelers. They took supplies and headed for Donner Pass.

Reed’s rescue mission successfully took 17 down the mountain. his own family, and the Donner family, who were also the trip’s organizers. By this time, many in the Donner Party resorted to cannibalism of those who died from the cold and malnutrition.

Michael Wallis, author of The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny. “It was horrible climbing that great divide with frostbitten hands and feet, weakened by hunger, panting for air. The sun reflected off the snow and ice and burned the corneas of their eyes. The pain became unbearable.”

“I can’t overemphasize the importance of James Reed,” says Wallis. “If it wasn’t for Reed, the rest of the Donner Party would have died.”


John Stark was part of the Third Relief and was dubbed a hero for his actions in March 1847, when he and two other rescuers saved 11 people, including nine children, who had been left behind. Stark, a hardy settler, carried the children two at a time down the mountain. It was painfully slow and difficult, but all nine of the children survived. One of them later credited the miraculous rescue to “nobody but God and Stark and the Virgin Mary.”


During the fourth and final relief mission in mid-April of 1847, the rescuers only found one survivor among the gruesome remains of half-consumed corpses and severed limbs. The last man alive was Lewis Keseberg, an irascible German immigrant who was found in possession of Donner family gold and heirlooms. Keseberg was put on trial for killing and eating six fellow survivors, including Tamsen Donner, wife of George Donner, one of the organizers of the doomed expedition. Keseberg was ultimately acquitted but was forever cast as a blood-thirsty cannibal.

Now, more than 100 years later, we can see what they saw that winter.

Wind gusts of 190 mph were detected on Friday night at Palisades Tahoe at an elevation of 8700 feet, and other locations reported high winds as well. They believe that by the time the snow stops, accumulation could reach 12 feet.

Blizzard warnings for the Lake Tahoe region continue through Monday. Another storm is expected to follow this one and deliver several more inches of snow on the mountains.


This is what they used in the 1920s.

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