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'S'nowing Nevada: Living with Snow in the High Desert

Snow in downtown Reno. Taken in the 1930's. Courtesy: Nevada Historical Society.{br}
Snow in downtown Reno. Taken in the 1930's. Courtesy: Nevada Historical Society.
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Put yourself in the shoes of our Native American settlers for a brief second. You and your tribe are storing up seeds because the temperatures are getting colder, the winds on the rivers and lakes continue to grow stronger, and the fabled stories of winter are the talk between the tribesmen.

According to Northern Paiute historians, the concept of seasons were important for our Native tribes. Gathering and hunting were the Paiutes most important ways to survive the bitter cold of the dark and unknown months of winter. There were no calendars before the later-settlers came west. It was all about predictions, stories, wind movements, and eventual snowfall that would come.

At one point in history and shown from scientific geological discoveries, Nevada was once a frozen glacier. Many of our geological marvels such as Slide Mountain and Cave Rock show just how ever evolving Nevada's natural climate has become. Both relics of Native American lore.

Fast forward to the 19th century, when European settlers pushed west and found the hot desert could become a harsh cold tundra-like basin during the winter months. Many history books note the lives lost in winter excursions, including that of the Donner Party. But - that's a story for another time.

As the designs for modern homes evolved with time, we learned to heat our homes, warm our food and our families. Thus, we learned how to live in this unusual climate.

Into the 20th century, the invention of automobiles may've not been exactly prepared for winter. Sometimes, it feels like that today when Nevadan sees their first snowfall of whichever season we're in and decide to get behind the wheel of their car. (Sorry, that's an editorial opinion of mine. Personal bitterness about people who don't know how to drive in the snow).

I grew up in Incline Village up in Lake Tahoe. When I tell people that, I include that I was 'born six feet under the snow'. When it snows a bit in Reno, I tend to shake it off because to even get a 'snow day' where I'm from, your car shouldn't be able to make it out of your driveway.

I was the kid in high school who would spend his nights before bed checking out current forecasts when snow was expected. I would hop on AOL Instant Messenger and tell my classmates to put 'spoons under their pillows', 'turn their pajamas inside out,' and 'leave a cup of water next to their bedsides'.

Those three requests seem odd, no? Well, I was told those were superstitious ways of creating longer snowstorms.

They never worked.

So I too have learned to live in the 'sometimes' unpredictable climate that is Nevada's snowy sanctuary.

I soon found out after going to school at the University of Nevada, Reno, that most of Nevada has gotten used to braving snowstorms as well.

"We have such long an unusual mix of high mountains, low valleys, and different atmospheric pressure even just here in northern Nevada," says Cassie Wilson, Chief Meteorologist for News 4 & Fox 11. "We always talk about atmospheric rivers in our forecasts - and those bring the heavy and wet snow to the sierra. The front end of those rivers come from the coast and lands right in our valleys."

Plus, Cassie says adding in varied elements, such as elevation, makes it a perfection recipe of moisture, wind, cold temperatures and ergo...snow.

In fact, there are many snow records for each part of our state. Even in places that I thought may never see snowfall. Records listed by location, amount and date:

  • Reno: 18" - 2/17/1990
  • South Lake Tahoe: 24" - 11/21/2010
  • Incline Village: 16.8" - 1/11/2017
  • Carson City: 15" 1/19/1933
  • Minden: 25" - 3/15/1952
  • Virginia City: 30" - 2/19/1894
  • Mount Rose: 19" - /1/20/1962
  • Fernley: 12" - 1/25/1956
  • Fallon: 10" -1/5/1982
  • Yerington: 16" - 1/27/1916
  • Lovelock: 10" - 12/29/1995
  • Winnemucca: 8.7" 3/16/2018
  • Battle Mountain: 11" - 4/11/1912
  • Elko: 18.4" 1/24/1996
  • Eureka: 7" - 2/13/2001
  • Ely: 16" - 4/7/1900
  • Tonopah: 9.7" 2/6/1976
  • Hawthorne: 12" - 12/30/1891
  • Goldfield: 18" - 11/21/1946
  • Pioche: "18.5" - 12/4/1947
  • Las Vegas: 7.4" 1/31/1979

From the beauty of the Ruby Mountains in Elko, to the shores of Walker Lake in Hawthrone, to the hot and dry desert of Las Vegas, we've seen a fair share of mother nature's winter wonder across our state.

So if you plan on becoming a Nevadan resident (or have been one as long as I have) - a right of passage is grabbing that shovel and plowing away that snow on your walkway.

Knowing Nevada is a historical heritage series that highlights some of the interesting, unknown, and known, tales about the state of Nevada. This series is researched and put together by our own native Nevadan, Miles Buergin. If you have any suggestions for our next Knowing Nevada, please e-mail him at:

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