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‘Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow…’

Bob Wyckoff

“Oh, the weather outside it frightful but the fire is so delightful and since we’ve no place to go; let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…” These words from a very popular song we hear played and sung often every holiday season leads us into a photo gallery of Nevada City and Grass Valley winter snow scenes. For the benefit of our more recent residents these photos may come as a surprise, but every so often Mother Nature blankets the area with a covering of precipitation in the form of small tabular and columnar white ice crystals formed directly from water vapor in the air when the ambient temperature is less than 32°F; in a word – snow!


What some historians call the Granddaddy of all Western Nevada County storms isolated the Twin Cities in February 1890. One hundred years to the month and almost to the day later, Feb. 17, 1990, another “Granddaddy-type” storm again hit the western county. Snow fighting equipment was limited to shovels.

First back to 1890, when a blizzard that began on Sunday, Feb. 16, and slowly built its fury until some 4 feet of snow had fallen on Nevada City three days later. By Friday, an additional 7 inches had fallen.

The Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad tracks were blocked at numerous locations along the line and portions of the road remained shut down until March 2. The line between Grass Valley and Nevada City was covered with between 4 and 6 feet of snow. Both towns were running short of supplies and transportation was by either snowshoes, skis or sleds.

Nevada City’s Daily Transcript reported that the telegraph lines to Colfax “broke during the night.” Western Union service to Sacramento also was interrupted by the storm, and “are in working order only a portion of the time.” The story adds that “the snow is 15 feet deep (at) the summit of Banner Mountain two miles east…”

Additional storm information tells that, “The snow-shovelers had a picnic, the ruling rate being four bits (50¢) an hour … About 300 men and boys … have made from $1 to $20 apiece during the past week,” shoveling snow. “On Commercial and Broad streets the snow thrown from buildings is piled up…to a depth of from 15 to 18 feet.

A humorous sidelight to the 1890 blizzard is this account from the Nugget’s 100 Year Book: “Severest calamity of the storm was the day the little village of Washington ran out of an important necessity – beer. A local brewer ordered a custom-built sled from a local foundry and the great drought ended three days later.”

A DISTURBING weekend weather prediction appeared on the front page of The Union on Thursday, Feb. 15, 1990: “a powerful storm system from the Gulf of Alaska is predicted to bring snow down to 500 feet,” and “Grass Valley could get as much as a foot of snow and Nevada City up to 2 feet …”

The prediction was correct as one of the biggest storms ever to hit the western county arrived right on time. A blizzard warning was issued by the National Weather Service, but residents were ready. They had heeded the first warning and had stockpiled food, water, flashlight batteries, lamp oil and the like.

Two to 3 feet of heavy snow brought havoc to the community. Some 50,000 PG&E gas and electric customers in a three county area lost power for varying lengths of time – some up two weeks. Some 30 local residents, most of whom were elderly or infirm, were provided shelter by the Red Cross in the Grass Valley Veterans Memorial Building.

The storm interrupted publication of The Union: “Friday’s massive power outage in the Glenbrook Basin knocked The Union off line for some 14 hours, but the press run was finally completed the next morning … snow clogged roads prevented most home deliveries (of both Friday and Saturday’s papers) … Publisher Jack Morehead today assured customers … (that) all publications (will be delivered) to customers once the roads are passable.”

KNCO radio was off the air that Friday afternoon and evening.

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