The Biggest Christmas Snowstorm to Ever Hit California Was a Holiday Disaster

Christmas is usually a time of joy and celebration, but for many Californians in 1979, it was a time of disaster and hardship. On December 24, 1979, a powerful storm system swept in from the Pacific Ocean, bringing heavy rain, strong winds, and snow to much of northern and central California. The storm was especially severe in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where it unleashed a blizzard that dumped up to 48 inches of snow in some areas, making it the biggest Christmas snowstorm in California history.

The Storm’s Impact

The storm’s impact was felt across the state, causing widespread damage, disruption, and danger. The rain caused flooding and mudslides in the lower elevations, damaging roads, bridges, and buildings. The wind knocked down power lines and trees, leaving thousands of people without electricity and heat. The snow created hazardous driving conditions and trapped many travelers and residents in their homes or cars. Some of the worst affected areas were the ski resorts and towns in the Sierra Nevada, where the snow piled up to several feet and the visibility was near zero. Many people had to be rescued by helicopters or snowmobiles, while others had to dig themselves out or wait for the snowplows to clear the roads.

The Storm’s Aftermath

The storm’s aftermath was also challenging and costly. The storm claimed at least 16 lives, mostly due to hypothermia, car accidents, or heart attacks. Many more people were injured or suffered from frostbite or exposure. The storm also caused significant economic losses, estimated at over $100 million in 1979 dollars. The storm disrupted the holiday plans and businesses of many people, especially those who had traveled to the mountains for skiing or recreation. The storm also affected the agriculture and wildlife of the region, damaging crops and habitats.


The Christmas Eve Blizzard of 1979 was one of the most memorable and destructive snowstorms in California history. It turned a festive season into a nightmare for many people, who had to endure the storm’s wrath and cope with its consequences. The storm also showed the power and unpredictability of nature, and the vulnerability and resilience of humans. The storm was a rare and extreme event, but it also reminded Californians of the importance of being prepared and helping each other in times of crisis.

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