TAHOE/TRUCKEE - As everyone knows, accurate long-range weather forecasting is a tough business, especially during a Sierra Nevada winter. In 1958, the California Olympic Committee tapped Irving Krick for a specific forecast for the month of February 1960 when the Winter Olympics were to be held at Squaw Valley. Krick, a professional meteorologist and cloud seeding pioneer from Southern California, predicted stormy periods in January 1960 and the first half February before clearing. Counting on Krick's calculations, the Games were scheduled to start on Feb. 18, after the unsettled weather ended. The decision to use Krick's forecast greatly upset the U.S. Weather Bureau and the American Meteorological Society, which considered him a fraud.
Despite their opposition to Krick's work, the Weather Bureau and AMS couldn't deny the forecaster did have some high-profile clients, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1956, Krick was chosen to predict the weather for Eisenhower's Inaugural Parade slated for Jan. 20, 1957. For the first time, Krick used a Remington Rand Univac computer to make a prediction based on his calculations. His forecast for Jan. 20 calling for rain, a brief clearing, with more rain to follow was right on the money. The U.S. military was so impressed that Krick twice visited General Curtis LeMay, chief of the Strategic Air Command, to discuss using computer-aided long-range weather forecasting for military purposes. The general agreed to set up a joint research program with Krick, but the plan was killed when the chief scientific officer at Air Force Headquarters declared long-range forecasting an impossibility.
The winter of 1960 got off to an unexpectedly slow start snow-wise so Krick went to Squaw Valley, fired up 20 ground-based cloud seeding generators he had placed there, and within a week up to 7 feet of new snow blanketed the upper slopes. And the storms kept coming. By the end of January, Tahoe City had received nearly 10 inches of precipitation, nearly double normal. The opening days of February saw more severe storms that caused havoc with course preparation and athletes' practice. During the first half of the month, subtropical storms raised snow levels to 8,500 feet and nearly 8 inches of rain soaked Squaw Valley. A week before the opening ceremonies, another warm system barreling in out of the Pacific Ocean lashed the mountains with more moisture.
The persistent rain melted some of the lower-elevation snowpack, which created flood conditions near the newly-completed Olympic Village. The parking lot made of packed snow mixed with sawdust was nearly washed out. In addition, wind gusts exceeding 100 mph toppled trees and blew rock debris onto the speed skating oval. One 75-foot tall tree crashed only 30 feet from the Olympic administration building, tearing down power lines but sparing the structure. Damage in the Lake Tahoe area was estimated at half a million dollars. Swollen with rain and snowmelt, Squaw Creek threatened to spill over its banks and wash away the sprawling parking area on either side. The Olympic venue was in real trouble and desperate organizers talked about hauling in snow by truck. The water-logged snowpack made course management nearly impossible for maintaining ideal alpine and cross-country skiing conditions. In an emergency meeting, H. D. Thoreau, the managing director for the organizing committee of the Games, stated, "The Squaw Valley site is now in serious condition because of the continued unprecedented rain storms. All possible measures are being taken to protect Olympic facilities from the potential damage."
Fortunately, cold air sweeping in behind the front helped dump plenty of fresh snow on the mountain and flood-damaged parking lot. The heavy snowfall and monumental traffic jams forced Olympic officials to postpone the opening ceremony by about one hour. As it turned out, the timing was perfect. The snowstorm quit, the wind let up, and the skies temporarily cleared. Bright sunshine poured down on the grateful athletes and crowds of spectators. To some it was a biblical event. The change in conditions was so dramatic that Russian delegates began thinking about the intense competition in science and technology between the Soviet Union and the United States and wondered, "Have the Americans perfected weather control?" Shortly after the opening ceremonies ended and everyone headed home, it began to snow again.
Irving Krick's long-range forecast and cloud seeding efforts didn't go unnoticed. Although no one in the scientific community would admit that Krick had anything to do with the timely snowfall, at the conclusion of the Squaw Valley Winter Olympics, Thoreau thanked Krick saying, "We were, indeed, fortunate in the selection of our dates for the Games from the standpoint of good weather."
- Tahoe historian Mark McLaughlin is a nationally published author and professional speaker. His award-winning books are available at local stores or at www.thestormking.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out Mark's new blog at www.tahoenuggets.com.