Weather History



As I sit here writing this the snow continues to fall outside my office window in Carnelian Bay. This week’s impressive 3-day snowstorm isn’t a record breaker for the month of October, but frigid temperatures brought enough of the white stuff to Truckee and the Tahoe Basin that schools closed and traffic got snarled over Donner Pass. The Gulf of Alaska storm marked a dramatic change from the Indian summer weather that locals and visitors had been enjoying since Labor Day weekend.

Chain controls were in force for the first time this season on major mountain passes in the Northern Sierra. At one point, there were 17 tractor trailers and a half dozen cars stuck near Donner Pass when the storm first hit on October 22, 2012.

The storm’s origin in the northern latitudes tapped very cold air for this early in the season, but when compared to the minus 6 degrees Fahrenheit recorded at Squaw Valley on October 30, 1971, we got off easy this time. Low freezing levels during this recent cold front drove storm totals near the Sierra Crest to three feet. Alpine Meadows Ski Resort reported the most with a 46-inch storm total. 

This infrared satellite image indicates cloud tops and precipitation surging into the Pacific Northwest from the Gulf of Alaska. The speckled nature of the clouds over the ocean indicate cold air instability that can generate significant snowfall accumulations in the mountains well after the actual frontal passage.

October snowstorms are not necessarily harbingers of a heavy winter. Recall last October when about two feet fell at Squaw Valley early in the month and everyone got their hopes up that another bomber winter like 2011 was on the way? After that early shot, the region went into a tailspin, at one point setting records for record high temperatures and the longest string of consecutive dry days since 1961. (See Tahoe Nugget #217)

In fact, sometimes early snow leads to a dry season like Water Year 2001 when Squaw Valley picked up 44 inches in October. Boreal Mountain Resort fired up their lifts on Oct. 12, the earliest opening day on record for the ski area, but the winter of 2001 ended up as Reno’s driest ever.

Cold Pacific storms often generate strong thunderstorms in the lower elevations of California that can produce tornadoes (generally weak), heavy rain, damaging wind gusts and hail. At least one tornado touchdown was associated with this October storm which caused damage to buildings and infrastructure. This funnel cloud was seen in the Sacramento Valley on October 23. Courtesy

Other notable October snowfalls include 1899 when 56 inches buried Tahoe City and 7.4 feet were measured on Donner Pass. More recently, 50 inches of snow fell at the Central Sierra Snow Laboratory in October 2004, with nearly six feet in the highest elevations. The 2004 total was the greatest amount for the tenth month since the lab was established in 1946.

Squaw Valley’s upper elevations picked up about 3 feet of snow in this recent storm series. Note colorful foliage still on the trees.  

Twenty years ago in 1992, the season’s first snowfall occurred on October 29, with a total of 17.1 inches recorded at the Snow Lab near Donner Pass. That year, the region was in the grip of a six year drought and Tahoe-Truckee residents were praying fervently for snow. Lake Tahoe was on its way down to 6,220.2 feet in elevation, the lowest level in recorded history.

For three years the Truckee River had limped along at one tenth of its normal flow. Pyramid Lake, terminus of the Truckee, had fallen 11 feet since 1987. Nevada was turning to dust, waiting for a Washoe Zephyr to blow it away.

During the severe drought from 1987 to 1992 the Truckee River dried up, which severely impacted fish and animal habitat let alone tourism associated with Tahoe water sports. The wet winter of 1993 would start to change that scenario.

With all the dismal news about the lack of water, most people were hoping for a big winter. On December 1, 1992, the National Weather Service issued its forecast predicting drier than normal weather for the upcoming winter. Ironically, just 48 hours after the prediction was released, the first in a series of powerful cold fronts began assaulting the region.

The barrage of snowstorms buried the Sierra. At South Lake Tahoe, rangers on Echo Summit recorded nearly 17 feet of snow that month. It was the wettest start to a winter in 10 years.

Despite a National Weather Service forecast for drier than average conditions during the winter of 1993 issued on Dec. 1, 1992, by New Years Day 1993 the Storm King had Tahoe-Truckee residents under siege.

By the end of December 1992, residents and tourists were wishing the drought was back. Persistent rain, wind and heavy snow caused havoc with air, rail and road travel for holiday travelers. Hotels in Truckee and Tahoe City were overwhelmed. Blinding snow forced officials at (then) Reno Cannon Airport to shut down 80 percent of its flights, stranding 3,000 passengers. Trains were delayed and most major highways were closed. Avalanches had cut electric power to 15,000 people.

Southern Pacific Railroad was about the only transportation available in the Northern Sierra during the December 1992 barrage of snowstorms. I took this photo near downtown Truckee. Crews are working to keep track switches clear.

At Donner Pass, 8.5 feet of snow fell in a four day pounding. Countless holiday travelers tried to escape the mountains at that point, but Interstate 80 remained closed for three days. The deep snow set off deadly propane tank explosions throughout the Tahoe Basin.

On New Year’s Eve, the NWS issued a forecast for more snow. An invigorated jet stream drove storm after storm into the Tahoe region, and by the third week of January the upper mountain snowpack at Squaw Valley was approaching 20 feet. During the first 10 days of February another 11.5 feet of snow smothered Donner Pass, and for the first time since the epic winter of 1983, Southern Pacific Railroad deployed rotary snowplows to the Summit.

Path to my Carnelian Bay cabin in early February 1993. All hand-shoveled.

Ultimately, nearly 42 feet of snow fell at the Snow Lab that winter, ranking it the 13th snowiest since 1946. That season’s 83 inches of water went a long way toward mitigating the six year dry spell.

When my neighbor in Carnelian Bay lost his satellite TV reception it was time to shovel the roof, circa March 1993.

Despite the NWS winter forecast for drier than normal conditions in 1993, the season ended up being a “Drought Buster” and the ninth wettest on record in the Sierra, right after 2011.

Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted a mild and drier than normal winter for much of the western United States in 2013. Well, you know how those seasonal forecasts can go.


Fresh snow cloaks Truckee River Canyon outside Tahoe City on October 23, 2012.

Although no one can say with certainty whether NOAA’s forecast will verify, tomorrow Squaw Valley USA opens for a one day skiing-boarding fundraiser and the following day Boreal Mountain Resort opens for the season. Let the winter games begin!


Maple leafs offer colorful contrast to early Tahoe snow.










Tahoe Characters


Mickey Daniels is a funny guy who loves practical jokes, but when it comes to catching fish in Lake Tahoe, he’s all business. As skipper of Big Mack II, a 43-foot-long fishing boat designed and equipped specifically for Tahoe, Mickey spends most mornings trolling the depths searching for trophy-size trout and the beefy Mackinaws that make his clients smile and come back for more.

Mickey Daniels is a master guide, a passionate, knowledgeable fisherman who after 50 years experience, knows the moods and seasons of Tahoe better than anyone.

Featured in many sportsmen magazines, Mickey loves to teach his customers about the secrets of fishing one of the world’s deepest mountain lakes, mixing both fact and fiction in an entertaining style that keeps people chuckling during those rare lulls when the fish aren’t biting.

Mickey Daniels is best known as the owner of Mickey’s Big Mack charters in Carnelian Bay, but his personal history is as colorful and adventurous as his daily forays out into Big Blue. In June 2009 I interviewed the Skipper and we discussed his life.

Happy anglers on Big Mack II after a fruitful summer morning catching “fish, fotos, and fun.”

Born on October 3, 1937, in Canoga Park in Los Angeles, Mickey’s family moved to Rio Linda (Sacramento County) where they operated a gas station store. Later, when his dad got a job as a welder in a Richmond shipyard, they pulled up stakes again. His father also worked as the captain of a ferry boat on the Columbia River in Washington State, which may explain how Mickey acquired his aquatic genes. The family next settled in Sacramento where Mickey’s dad ran a small business until his death in 1949. Mickey was only 12-years-old at the time and his father’s death hit him hard.

While attending Sacramento High School, Mickey played football (in the era when players wore leather helmets) and chased girls until his graduation in 1955. His love of sports inspired him to pursue a career as a high school coach so he attended junior college where he participated in football, basketball, water polo and swimming. His ability at swimming led him to a job giving lessons to aspiring California Highway Patrol recruits.


Mickey’s sportfishing charters are a year-round adventure at Lake Tahoe.

His experience with the CHP recruits got him thinking about a career in law enforcement, so Mickey joined the Marine Corps in 1957. He served two years including a stint with the Military Police at a San Diego brig. After his honorable discharge, Mickey returned to Northern California and went back to teaching swimming for the Sacramento Unified School District.

While working in Sacramento, Mickey spent a lot of time at Lake Tahoe water skiing with friends. He tried snow skiing at Granlibakken, but never became very proficient at it. During the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, Mickey attended the Games both weekends.

Mickey Daniels (right)  with his friend and neighbor John “The Shark” Baker at the weekly “Tahoe Old Timers Liars Club” gathering held at CB’s Pizza most Friday nights.

At that time, Mickey’s girlfriend and future wife, Sharon Bechdolt, lived in Tahoe City and every weekend Mickey drove up from Sacramento to see her. The Bechdolt family has a long history in Tahoe City—owners of the old Tahoe Inn and the Tahoe City Golf Course—so when Mickey married Sharon in 1960, he joined one of the oldest and most influential clans on the North Shore.

His father-in-law, Carl Bechdolt, Jr., welcomed Mickey with open arms. When Mickey mentioned that he would like to become a Tahoe City deputy, Carl called the Sheriff at 2 a.m. one weekend to secure a job for his new son-in-law. Mickey was interviewed that Monday and without any training, was issued a gun, badge and patrol car the next day.

Before Mickey Daniels became a fishing captain, he served the community as a Peace Officer and California’s last constable.

The newlyweds lived behind a gas station in Tahoe City and soon had three children. Mickey served with the sheriff’s department for three-and-a-half years, rising to the rank of sergeant. During the December 1963 kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr., at South Lake Tahoe, Mickey manned the Tahoe City roadblock as law enforcement tried to catch the kidnappers. Despite the cordon that encircled the lake, the abductors managed to escape the dragnet in a snowstorm.

Another satisfied customer on Big Mack II.

In 1964, Mickey left Tahoe City for Sacramento where he trained at the California Highway Patrol Academy before joining the force. He was first assigned to Indio in Southern California, and later transferred to South Lake Tahoe. In early 1967, Mickey was sent to Truckee and assigned to patrol both the Truckee and Tahoe City areas. Sharon and Mickey divorced that year and to make ends meet, he got a job working nights as a stock clerk at the Safeway store in Kings Beach.

In typical Tahoe fashion, Mickey often worked two jobs to survive, a schedule that sometimes kept him out of trouble. As a local cop in the early 1960s, he even shined shoes at the Tahoe City Golf Course, much to his boss’s chagrin.

Not everyone will catch fish this size, but if you get “skunked,” Mickey will buy you breakfast.

In 1969 Mickey offered his assistance to Tahoe City’s legendary Swedish-born constable, Harry Johanson, who had recently retired and then broken his hip. (See Tahoe Nugget #244.) To help Harry rehabilitate, Mickey moved into a room in Johanson’s house where he spent two years helping Harry get back on his feet again. To this day Mickey says it was an honor to have spent time with the iconic Tahoe lawman.

The Big Mack II pulling into its berth at the Sierra Boat Company in Carnelian Bay. Note Garwood’s Restaurant in the background. If you call ahead, the chef will prepare your catch for dinner that night.

Also in 1969, Mickey and two other Truckee CHP officers were suspended for “excessive facial hair.” Top CHP brass ordered the men to trim their mustaches and sideburns, or lose their jobs. And even though Mickey still says the whole incident was blown out of proportion, he proudly laminated the original newspaper article for posterity.

In the late 1960s, Mickey had to comply with the California Highway Patrol’s strict regulations on facial hair. “Bad Boy, Bad Boy, whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”

In 1985, Mickey married Nora in a West Shore wedding where a rare, early September snowstorm chased everyone into a nearby boat storage facility. The couple is still happily married and live on North Shore Lake Tahoe.

At Mickey’s surprise 70th birthday party held in Tahoe City in 2007, Dr. Charles Goldman, a noted environmental scientist at the University of California – Davis, and an expert on the Lake Tahoe ecosystem, gave tribute to Mickey and acknowledged his contributions to our understanding of the Tahoe fishery. Mickey has been tagging and releasing caught fish for years, keeping records that track and document the movement and lifespan of the big Macks that prowl Tahoe’s depths.

Every Fourth of July, Mickey takes friends and family out on Big Mack II for food, laughs, and fireworks.

For 27 years Mickey helped supply fresh fish for the annual Tahoe City Big Mack Feed, a charity event the he co-started as a fund raiser during his run for Constable in 1978. He’s also an active member of the Tahoe City Rotary Club. Mickey Daniel’s ongoing contributions to community and Tahoe science are second nature to him, whose favorite comment is: “It’s all part of the system.”

Big Mack II at its Carnelian Bay berth, waiting for another day’s adventure.

Visit Mickey’s Big Mack Charters website for information on how to book your perfect day in paradise.



Tahoe Characters



Following the warmest August on record in Reno, Nevada, September 2012 also went down as the toastiest in the Biggest Little City since 1888, with an average temperature more than 5 degrees above normal. Sacramento set a new Sept. record with 26 days at or exceeding 90 degrees.

Ironically and testament to California’s diverse range of microclimates, San Francisco was extraordinarily chilly at more than 6 degrees below normal in September, setting a new record for the lowest monthly mean temperature at 58.1 degrees. The average daily maximum temperature in the City by the Bay was only 64 degrees, definitely not beach weather in what is normally a mild month on the coast.


Near record high temperatures will ebb as approaching low pressure brings cooler weather and a slight chance of showers at Lake Tahoe for the start of next week. If any rain does wet the bucket, it will be the first measureable precipitation for the 2013 water year.

The summerlike conditions in the lower elevations translated into one of the most pleasant Septembers at Lake Tahoe in memory, with high temperatures around 80 degrees and lows in the 40s. The warm spell extended summer fun in the mountains all the way into October.

The balmy weather and clear blue skies have made outdoor activities a real treat, especially since the crowds of summer are gone. Autumn is the perfect time to visit one of Lake Tahoe’s hidden treasures, a spot that is often bypassed by today’s fast-paced visitor. Nestled in the Tallac Historic Site located just a few miles north of South Lake Tahoe are the remains of the Baldwin Estate.

The Baldwin Estate leads to a series of Old Tahoe mansions that harken back to Tahoe’s Golden Era.

You can spend a relaxing day at the Tallac Historic Site touring early 20th century lakefront estates, visiting the museum, and playing Frisbee with your dog on nearby sandy beaches. In high season beautiful Baldwin Beach prohibits pets, but the crescent strand affords spectacular views.

Baldwin Beach on October 1, 2012.

This charming and beautiful location was once a lavish resort built by a character named Elias “Lucky” Baldwin in the late 19th century. In the summer of 1879, Baldwin visited a Tahoe hostelry owned by Ephraim “Yank” Clements. He walked beneath the unspoiled stands of old growth timber and strolled along the sandy beach.

This gremlin-like tree burl was an unusual attraction for the merchant and miner clientele that patronized Yank Clement’s Tallac Point House, as was the spring-mounted dance floor that made guests dance “whether they knew how or not.”

The demand for tunnel supports for Comstock silver mines had already taken a terrible toll on the majestic pine forest that once cloaked the mountains around Lake Tahoe. The next year Baldwin bought Yank’s 2,000 acres, small hotel and one mile of lakefront, which was lost to foreclosure. Baldwin re-named the property the “Tallac House” for a nearby mountain. 

Baldwin named his resort after 9,785 foot Mt. Tallac, the highest mountain along Lake Tahoe, and one of the best hikes in the region. The snowfield at the upper right portion of the peak is a popular backcountry spring skiing challenge.


Baldwin’s new resort soon became the pride of Lake Tahoe and one of the classiest resorts in the country. The bold move helped usher in Tahoe’s golden age of deluxe vacation accommodations for the High Society of California and Nevada.

During the 1880s, high country tourism was still in its infancy; Tahoe City’s permanent population was 25 people. Baldwin’s upscale hotel and casino would boost Tahoe’s reputation as a “destination resort” for travelers looking to be pampered in luxury rather than experience the rustic backwoods fare common at that time.

One female correspondent for the San Francisco Bulletin who visited Lake Tahoe in August 1886 reported that the folks she met were “a queer class of people—old hunters, miners, and inn keepers of [primitive hostels]. Their knowledge of the inclinations and desires of tourists is exceedingly limited.”

Ironically, Baldwin’s moniker “Lucky” came from a windfall of $2 to $5 million dollars realized from his investments in those very Comstock mining operations that had decimated the Tahoe Basin.

Back in 1866, Baldwin possessed a security safe containing bundles of Hale & Norcross mining shares. At the time, the stocks were worth less than he had paid for them, but he didn’t want to sell at a loss. Before he left on a big game hunting expedition in India, he told his broker to sell his stock at a specific price. But later, when the broker tried to sell the shares, he realized that Baldwin had taken the key to the safe. Meanwhile miners at the Hale & Norcross discovered a rich vein of silver. The stock soared in value, and when he returned to San Francisco, Baldwin’s mining shares were worth a fortune and the nickname “Lucky” was his for life.

Tallac Hotel guests out on a 19th century boating excursion. The Tallac Hotel (background) served 8 course dinners to the music of a string-and-organ quartet and housed a gambing casino. The resort was expensive and offered activities and sports of all kinds.   

E. J. Baldwin was known more for his fondness for fast horses and young women than protecting the environment, but he saved the towering trees along the beach by building a sawmill on his property at Fallen Leaf Lake. The mill provided lumber for new construction, thus preserving the original forest in the area.


As the winter snowpack melts each spring on Mt. Tallac, a “cross-of-snow” emerges on its southeast face. The name “Tallac” is derived from a Washoe Indian term that means “large mountain.” 

Lucky Baldwin’s womanizing escapades are legend. He married five times (including his fourth wife who was only 16), had countless affairs and illegitimate children, and fought numerous breach-of-promise and seduction suits. To facilitate summer flings, Baldwin had a private two-story “love nest” built on the sprawling grounds of his Tahoe estate.

On January 5, 1883, Lucky’s cousin Veronica Baldwin shot him in the arm after he allegedly assaulted her and then fired her from his employ. The headline in the San Francisco Call read: “Yesterday at 10:00 o’clock a young woman shot E.J. Baldwin through the left arm at the level of the heart as he was leaving his private dining room on the second floor of the Baldwin Hotel [in San Francisco].  She fired at him from a distance of six feet, without warning. She was immediately disarmed and arrested.”

Veronica admitted that she tried to kill Baldwin because he had allegedly fathered her baby, but he declined to testify against her at trial and she left the state. Once described as “the most beautiful girl on the Pacific Coast,” she moved to Denver and opened a parlor in the city’s Red Light District.

Louise Perkins was 19-years-old when she sued E.J. Baldwin for an alleged sexual encounter.

Baldwin’s national reputation as a philanderer was well-deserved, but the libertine always claimed, “My public reputation is such that every woman who comes near me must have been warned in advance.” J.B. Marvin, first chief clerk of the famous Baldwin Hotel, agreed “Baldwin didn’t run after the women; they ran after him.”

Baldwin was 57 years old when sued by Ms. Perkins.

Lucky Baldwin died in 1909 at the age of 81 leaving a fortune of $25 million. After his funeral, San Francisco Examiner reporter Al Joy wrote “His was the only funeral of a famous man I ever covered where not a sob was heard nor a tear seen.” As one observer remarked, “Baldwin had friends, but they were outnumbered by his enemies.”

Baldwin’s 19th century land purchase protected old growth forest as well as these important wetlands. Tahoe’s diminishing water clarity is partially caused by the loss of these riparian zones which filter nutrient-loaded runoff sediment before it enters Big Blue.

Despite Baldwin’s somewhat unsavory personal character, locals and visitors owe him a dept of gratitude for saving a piece of old Tahoe and giving us beautiful Baldwin Beach.

My brother Tom checking out the water temperature at Baldwin Beach during his Sept. 2012 visit.

The Washoe Indian Tribe lost their traditional Tahoe lands during the cultural invasion of the 19th century. Recently there have been efforts to return some land and access to these First Nation people.


Baldwin Beach. Locals and savvy tourists know that September is one of the best months to be at Lake Tahoe. 

UPDATE: THIS JUST IN! Last week a school-age girl named Laney Brint found a silver quarter dated 1892 while she was wading in the water just 50 yards off the beach from where Lucky Baldwin’s Tallac Hotel & Casino was located. A guest may have dropped it during a 19th century boating excursion or maybe someone threw it in the lake for good luck at midnight New Year’s Eve. Either way, Lucky’s luck is now Laney’s!

 Laney Brint’s treasure from Lake Tahoe led her to the story of Lucky Baldwin!