Historian speaks of Tahoe’s amazing weather history | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Historian speaks of Tahoe’s amazing weather history

Courtesy Mark McLaughlin Collection Deep snow in Homewood on Tahoe's West Shore, circa 1938.

Weather has always provided lively conversation.

Season after season in Truckee and Tahoe, talk of snowpacks, wind chills and other meteorological marvels have been among the most exciting.

Weather historian and author Michael McLaughlin on Thursday, March 3, will speak at Incline Village’s Mark Twain Cultural Center.

He works under the name of the Sierra Storm King, a mighty moniker first placed on rugged railroad men during the 1800 who kept trains rolling in all types of weather. McLaughlin’s 60-minute presentation will offer dominating weather patterns such as the recent annual flip-flopping El Nino and La Nina and the impact of climate changes on human events.

“I can tell you what occurred from yesterday and before that, and I am always 100 percent accurate,” McLaughlin laughed.

His research includes more than three centuries of Sierra Nevada weather.

Although official weather reports did not exist in California until 1849, a series of unfortunate events, says McLaughlin, might have caused one of the most horrific stories in westward emigration. Tree rings did not indicate significant amount of water, however a naval surgeon in Monterey Bay wrote about snow falling on the beach in March 1847. McLaughlin believes the area near Truckee received massive amounts of dry powdery snow which led to the events of the ill-fated Donner Party in 1846 and 1847.

A Carnelian Bay resident, McLaughlin is much like pioneers of old filled with a desire to live in the shadow of towering mountains. He left his native Philadelphia more than 30 years ago and spent seasons in the Tahoe restaurant world. Just before he bought his own restaurant he says “he came to his senses.”

Turning his life’s interests from grills to geography, he studied at the University of Nevada, Reno where he learned about the natural sciences, which included hydrology and climate.

His fascination with the interaction between weather and humans continues to be palpable to audiences.

Illustrating his stories McLaughlin adds vivid images of the past such as train engines and houses encased in mammoth snowdrifts. The history of the area’s ski industry will be told from its start during the Great Depression when a concentrated grassroots campaign involved skiers, politicians and a pileup of automobiles.

In a business where being a stickler for details is part of the job, he has no qualms about questioning other scientific sources. One source that relies on more remote robotic observation than human recently calculated more rain than snow had fallen in 2010.

Knowing that warmer temperatures produces snow in Tahoe, McLaughlin objected to the findings.

“According to them I shoveled a boatload of rain,” he said.

The present 2011 winter weather McLaughlin observes has yet to rival the snowiest on record that occurred in 1938.

With more than two weeks until spring’s official arrival, things can always change.

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