By the Moonshine Ink Reporting Team
It was a December to remember.
Nearly 18 feet — or 214 inches, to be precise — of snow fell over the span of 23 days on Donner Summit, making it the snowiest December and third snowiest month since 1970, when recorded history began. (January 2017 received the all-time most snow with 238 inches and February 2019 came in second, with 221 inches.)
Daily life went into a tailspin. Both snow veterans and first- timers faced exhausting hours of snow removal, days-long power outages, gas-less gas stations, and road closures in and out of the Truckee/North Tahoe area.
Rob Basile, owner of Basile Management Practice, which provides snow removal among other services, said he “couldn’t have made it through that storm without [his] fantastic employees.” He and his four fellow snowplow drivers worked 16-hour days during the heaviest period of snowfall. All told, the crew plowed 300 driveways and five private roads in the Old County and Ridgewood neighborhoods.
“One day we cleared all the driveways and went home and got some sleep, and went back out at 3 in the morning and there was almost 3 feet [of new snow] overnight,” Basile said, also mentioning that during the storm cycle he helped a few renters back out of driveways and put their cars in four-wheel drive.
“Multiple Teslas and even Subarus getting stuck just because of clearance — they were following [our tractors’] tracks but they were getting high-centered,” he said. “In our neighborhood there were probably six different stuck cars that got abandoned.”
It wasn’t just professionals assisting with fluffy driveways and wayward wheels: Over the course of three of the snowiest December storm days, lifetime Kings Beach resident Clayton Kuecker helped “probably a total of 20 people [who were stuck in their cars],” he says, “and about five in the last hour” (the Ink spoke with him just as darkness set in for the night of Dec. 29).
Kuecker said he comes upon vehicles with spinning wheels, spitting snow and ice but going nowhere, and the drivers usually get into the predicament due to a lack of necessary chains. With roots in the construction industry, Kuecker has the mechanics on his truck to “pull them out of a ditch,” so he does.
Kuecker said he isn’t doing a public service: “Mostly they’re just in my way,” he said. “Sometimes they give you money; I don’t ask for it.”
Visitor Julio Guzman from Vallejo experienced the unexpected gas shortages, long chain traffic waits, and local driving difficulties. He was at a disadvantage without the snow experience that residents accumulate.
“We didn’t know we were going to find ourselves last night in the middle of a snowstorm,” said Guzman, who was traveling with a large family group visiting from outside the country spread out among multiple cars while I-80 was intermittently closed and open to local transit only and requiring chains. “We expected about three hours [from Sacramento] heading into Reno [but we got] stuck in the weather in the Sierra for about 16 hours. The GPS actually rerouted us through Yuba City [but the road was closed] so we ended up coming back to Sacramento and then come up through the 80 which they had just opened about an hour prior.”
Guzman and his family spent about an hour and a half trying to put on chains, only finding out once they attempted to install them that they had the wrong variety for one of their vehicles, and they had to purchase new ones in the middle of the journey. Yet Guzman described the whole experience as “epic,” saying that the snow is worth it: “amazing, something you would see in a movie.”
Providing official measurements of our region’s snow accumulation is the Central Sierra Snow Lab, where station manager Andrew Schwartz reigns for his first winter, taking over after the retirement of longtime manager Randall Osterhuber. Schwartz said the peak-and-valley style of Truckee and North Tahoe storms in late 2021 — a promising snowstorm in October, barely five inches of snow in November, and then record amounts in December — are providing helpful data for understanding current weather variability.
The western United States has been relying on information from the late 1900s and early 2000s to predict today’s weather patterns, he said, yet those figures are no longer applicable because of climate change. The last three months of weather in 2021 will give scientists concerned with climatology a better idea of what to expect in the future.
“This teeter-totter whiplash of dry to wet, dry to wet is exactly why we’re up here — so we can understand why this is happening and hopefully in the future better forecast it so that we can more reliably manage our water,” Schwartz explained. “As much as it can be a pain, trying to forecast and even measure, the data that’s going to come out of these storms is going to be absolutely tremendous, and the lab will take a very active role in that.”
Regarding weather for the early part of 2022, Schwartz said January will see a dry pattern for a few weeks, and beyond that it’s anyone’s guess: “I looked at the seasonal forecasts [on Jan. 4] and they’re still suggesting that we have an equal chance of above or below average precipitation for the next several months.”