A Storm Called Mariah

Since I am an amateur Meteorologists I have always kept records of the weather in California and I have records or bits of records going back to the late 50's. The storm I am going to talk about was even named. Its name, was Mariah pronounced Ma-rri-ah. In the Sierra it was one of the greatest storms to hit the slopes bringing the Trains that crossed Donner Pass to a stop and closed the major routes out of the state for almost a week.
But it is what the storm did in the southland that we old timers remember. And it is the way the years previous storms remind me of this very year.
December was cold, very cold. Mountain Temps were down into the teens and below zero in many Mountain Communities. But for most part it was dry, only a few light storms and very little snowfall graced the mountain slopes. January and February were also dry but March turned cold and we even had an ice storm and heavy fog up in Running Springs where we lived. We lived on the north side of town off of highway 18, also better known as "The Rim Of the World Highway"
In fact we lived on Ocean View Road. 5th street down the steep side of the rim and we were able to see the pacific ocean from our house. The road was aptly named. Below us there was only one more street before it dropped off nearly 6,000 feet to the San Bernardino Valley below.
Late in March the weather turned warm around the 70's for afternoon highs, but still going down into the 30's at night. My dad said we were being set up for a big storm and he was right. On March 31 the storm hit, but not like a winter storm usually hits.
As we walked up to the bus stop to wait for the bus to pick us up and take us to the Rim of the World High School, about 20 miles away in Rim Forest, it was bright, clear as a bell, and warm. It was already 70 degrees.
As we headed to school a lot of us noticed a dark wall of clouds moving from the North over the LA area across the valleys towards the east. At 10 am the temperature began to drop and clouds moved in over the school. We could see the storm develop over the valley and move up over the mountains towards us. The school principle called the CHP for road conditions in Crestline, 20 miles to the west of the school. He was told it was snowing hard and to send the kids home.
By the time the buses had been pulled out and we kids loaded on them, the snow had already began to fall at our elevation of 4500 feet. And it was getting heavy fast. As we headed home it felt like we on a roller coaster as the bus went up and down over the blowing drifts. By the time we reached Running Springs there was over a foot of snow on the roads.
At 2 pm the CHP closed the mountain to all but residents. My mom and dad worked at the bottom of the hill as we called it right off of highway 33 in Highland, I called them to let them know of the situation and they headed on home. The normal 30 minute drive turned into a 2 hour drive up the mountain with chains behind everyone else trying to get up the Mountain for Easter Weekend. What a mess.
By 7 pm there was a foot of snow and hail pellets on the ground and then it began to rain. And it rained hard. My dad said that it would turn to snow and it was going to snow hard. He sure was right. By morning we had 3 feet of new snow on the ground and it did not stop then. We had thunder snow and lightning and it snowed harder. My mom tried to get the T-Bird out of the drive way and drive it down to the next road, which was plowed, since ours wasn't and they had to go to work on Monday, or so they thought.
By Sunday night there was over 5 feet of new snow and it was still snowing. Monday morning came and it was obvious that my parents were not going to go to work. By the end of the day another two feet of snow fell in Running Springs. Out on Highway 18 on the way in to Big Bear in an area known as the Artic Circle, over 12 feet of snow had fallen. Almost 14 feet of snow fell up on the ski slopes of Big Bear.
In Northern California, the storm dropped 26 feet of snow on the Sierras shutting down Donnar Pass to rail and car alike. A passenger train was even trapped in snow drifts of over 40 feet. It took them 3 days to get the passengers out of cars that were without heat, water or food.
But back to our little corner of the storm. The snow levels had dropped down to 2,000 feet in most areas, and communities like Yucaipa, Banning and Beaumont were snowed in. It snowed in the desert communities. Apple Valley received 18 inches of snow. And where it did not snow, it rained. Nearly 15 inches of rain fell across the Southland, flooding many low lying areas.
At the time, this was the second greatest snowfall event to ever hit the IE. Mariah The Storm sure lived up her to her billing. A storm that anyone who lived through and experienced was greater in scope than any Hurricane to hit the East Coast. Because Mariah affected the entire state and all of the South West and her affects were to felt for many months to come.
Gary Hall, the ghostpainter


This is the same movie I remember from 6th grade(Cushing Elementary - Wisconsin) back in the late 60's. Still can recall several storylines (car went off the road, buried, and found weeks later with passengers deceased), stuck train, giant plow attached snow-blower, and pictures of wind blowing trees with fast clouds and that song in the background. This is the same song (They Call the Wind Maria) from Paint Your Wagon but when sung I've always heard it pronounced Mariah. Not sure why the difference but would like to see the movie again - really had an impact.

A STORM CALLED MARIA was a Disney made for TV movie loosely based on George R. Stewart's 1941 novel STORM (Random House). The brunt of the film was made up from numerous newsreel footage including STILLWELL DAM spilling near San Diego, SP Train #101 CITY OF SAN FRANCISCO trapped at Emigrant Gap from a Sierra Nevada snow slide (1952) as well as various footage of US Highway 40 in California and Operation Haylift(?) in Nebraska during the Winter of 1949.

What year did this storm hit California?

I really liked that movie and I remember it well. I would love to see it again. Does anyone know where it is?

I remember this film in 5th and 6th grade because the music was so haunting. The years I saw in in 16mm form was in 1973 - 1975. I would love to see this movie again.

The only thing I remember about the movie is the great amount of snow, showing utility poles with snow up to the cross bars holding wires. I remember only a little bit of the song, which was great.

Mark Budka is correct. I remember this as appearing on the 1-hour Disney TV program (the program changed names at one point, but I think was called the Wonderful World of Disney, that may be the later name) on Sunday evenings, probably in the late 50s or early 60s. I remember it as a documentary about the weather and what weathermen and others did to react to them. It did use the song from Paint Your Wagon.

I remember this movie Marriah I seen it in grade school in the early 70s it was about a great snow storm that hit California. I would love to see this movie again as well. Is it out there and available?

I've been looking for this movie for years! I'd be happy to pay a tidy sum for a copy.

I was 5 yrs old when we left Donner Pass, it was in the 1950s and we were on the last Greyhound Bus out for 2-3 weeks. I vividly remember the trip and it was wild. I stayed awake the whole time until we got back to home in Pasadena Ca.
We had been camping out at Donner Pass for 6 weeks and were headed back home.
If you want more information get back with me on my emai.
I would love to tell you about the trip.


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