The Biggest March Snowstorm in California History

Written by Crystal
Published: March 19, 2023
© irwin
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Spring can mean snow! If you live in California.

Spring snowfall is common in the Golden State. But sometimes, the blizzards are more unforgiving than usual. This was the case during California’s biggest March snowstorm. It happened over 100 years ago and left the state with over 30 feet of snow!

Follow along as we reveal the record-breaking numbers and compare them to the state’s usual March temperatures. We’ll even look at how the wildlife survived the harsh weather. Read on to learn all about California’s biggest March snowstorm ever! It’s a chilly one.

Lake Tahoe
Spring snowfall is common in the Golden State.

©Joseph Sohm/

California’s Biggest March Snowstorm

California’s biggest March snowstorm happened on March 11, 1911. Tamarack, California, recorded snow depths of 451 inches! That’s a total of 37.5 feet. The heavy snowfall in January helped contribute to the record-breaking numbers.

In January, the snow depth at the Tamarack California weather station measured 390 inches. One month later, the snowfall had reached an incredible 451 inches. This 1911 record isn’t the only time Tamarack has seen a lot of snowy action. The area also holds the record for the greatest snowfall between 1906 and 1907. During this meteorological winter, the area received 884 inches of snow.

Parts of northern California have a subarctic or sub-polar climate. They experience cold winters, short summers, and varied temperatures. Subarctic climates create some of the most extreme seasonal temperature variations. During winter, temperatures can drop to a bone-chilling -58° F. While summer months can exceed 79° F.

What caused the snowstorm of 1911? Part of it has to do with the California location. Tamarack, California, sits high up in the Sierra. It’s just south of Reno and Lake Tahoe. This location is prone to Pacific storms. During the winter of 1911, the central part of California experienced multiple snowstorms back to back. The Pacific storms brought a lot of moisture, which soon became snow.

Northstar Resort California - Skiing in California
Sitting high up in the Sierra is Lake Tahoe. This location is prone to Pacific storms.

©Lance Huntress/

Average March Temperatures in California

What is March weather generally like in California? The state experiences a lot of clear skies and sunny days. Temperatures are usually milder in the mornings and evenings. Mornings and evenings commonly have temperatures in the mid-40s or the lower 50s. Freezing temperatures are rare in March, but certain areas, like Lake Tahoe, may experience them. Highs of 70° F are common.

As you move towards Palm Springs, highs in the mid-80s are normal. Los Angeles has a high daily temperature of around 71° F. While San Francisco has an average high temperature of 62° F and an average low of 51° F.

In March, San Diego experiences highs of 66° F and lows of 54° F. Over in Yosemite, highs of 58° F and lows of 33° F are normal. As you move north toward Lake Tahoe, the temperatures start to drop to an average temperature of 48° F.

Deep Creek hot springs in California
The state experiences a lot of clear skies and sunny days. Temperatures are usually milder in the mornings and evenings.

©Tom Ha/

Does It Usually Snow in California During March?

Snowfall is a common occurrence in California during March. California snow can start as early as November and continue through April. The snow doesn’t blanket the entire state but touches several different counties.

Lake Tahoe is one of the areas that almost always experiences snowfall during March. They received the majority of their snowfall in February and March. The mountains of Southern California received most of their snowfall in January and February too.

California has some of the most unusual weather in the nation. California is a large state; it’s bigger than Japan! The large size contributes to extremely different climates in the northern vs. southern areas. The ocean currents and mountains also play a role. Cold air from across the coastal side heavily influences temperatures in the northern regions of California.

California’s Snowiest Spots in March

Where else can you find snow during March in California? Mount Shasta is one of the most popular locations. Towering 14,000 feet above the Pine Forest of Northern California, Mount Shasta is a steep-sided stratovolcano.

Soda Springs is another popular snowy location in March. The snowiest week is the first week of March. The famous first week usually has three heavy days of snowfall. Temperatures are generally a few degrees below freezing. The maximum temperature in mid-altitude Soda Springs during week one of March is 32° F with a minimum of 29° F. The sun likes to show up about three days every week.

Soda Springs averages 18.5 inches of snow every March. The ski area has a 7,074 feet elevation, which helps create the winter wonderland effect. Just make sure you’re prepared for wet days too. Rain is just as possible as snow during the first week of March.

A few more California locations that experience heavy snowfall in March include Big Bear Lake, Yosemite National Park, Lake Arrowhead, and Mammoth Mountain.

Yosemite National Park - Winter
California locations that experience heavy snowfall in March include Yosemite National Park.


How Does California Wildlife Survive the Snow?

California wildlife is used to snowy springs. Bighorn sheep, badgers, gray wolves, mountain lions, pronghorn, wild pigs, black bears, snowshoe hares, and the American pika are just a few animals living throughout the state.

March might seem like a late snow season to some, but not for these California creatures. They’re used to living with snow through April. How do they survive the cold weather and difficult terrain? These animals have unique winter adaptations and strategies.

Bighorn sheep have a geographic survival strategy centered around quickly finding food. When it’s cold, they move to lower elevations. When things start to heat up, they move back to the higher elevations. This helps the large sheep follow the most nutritious food foraging options while avoiding deep snow. During the warm season, bighorn sheep look for green grasses, bluegrass, and beautiful alpine flowers. When the cold weather comes around, they eat woody plants like shrubs and willow.

Bighorn sheep also have a winter adaptation that keeps them warm; they grow thick coats with lush underfur. Bison, goats, and mountain lions take a similar approach, growing an extra layer of fur to fight off the cold.

Mountain lions are happy to continue hunting during the cold March season. Their thick fur keeps them warm. And extra-large paws help them navigate the deep snow. When it’s too chilly to hunt, the mountain lions take shelter in caves or rock crevices.

Like the mountain lion, snowshoe hares also have extra feet. Their big hind feet help them effortlessly hop across the deep snow. And they stay safe from predators with their perfectly seasonal white fur.

Bighorn sheep also have a winter adaptation that keeps them warm; they grow thick coats with lush underfur.

©Trace Hudson/

Final Thoughts on California’s Snowiest March

Now you know all about California’s biggest March snowstorm. The snowstorm happened on March 11, 1911. But the crazy weather began in January. By the end of January, 390 inches of snowfall were already in Tamarack, California. By March 11, those numbers had risen by 41 inches! California’s used to experiencing big blizzards, but 1911 brought one major storm after another.

The state’s large size, coastal winds, and mountain ridges mean spring always brings snow to California. The cold ocean winds are pushed across California every winter season, and they bring a lot of snow-bound moisture with them. Things start getting snowy in November, and the potential for snowfall continues through the end of April. Areas like Soda Springs have their snowiest week of the year during the first week of March.

Finally, you also learned a little about how California’s wildlife survives late-season snow storms. Since the state is so large and experiences such varied climates, the animals are used to snowy conditions. They use their instincts and winter adaptations to stay warm and find food.

Mountain lions use large paws like snowshoes to move through the snow gracefully. These wild cats also grow thick fur coats, like the bison, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats roaming throughout California.

Of course, during the insanely snowy year of 1911, most of the animals were probably taking shelter. This was the year that California was hit with one major snowstorm after major another. By March 11, 1911, there were 37.5 feet of snow in California. Brrr!

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The Featured Image

Fresh snow falls onto houses and trees that line the Truckee River, California.
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About the Author

Crystal is always looking to learn more, and share her finds with you along the way. It's amazing how you can spend your entire life living with plants and animals, but still know so little about them! Let's explore our world together as Crystal covers topics about creatures, places, and experiences.

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