This obscure laboratory Tahoe holds the answers to California’s water future. But hardly anyone knows it exists.

SF Gate

At the top of Donner Summit, an old cabin rests in a thicket of tall trees. The structure is three stories tall, including the basement. Still, in the heaviest of winters, the snow drifts are deep enough to bury the front door, so the only way into the building is through a window on the top floor.

The cabin is the home of an obscure laboratory, called the Central Sierra Snow Lab, that holds records of snowfall on Donner Summit dating back to 1878. That makes the laboratory’s measurements one of the longest sets of data on snowfall in the world — and many of those records were written by hand, in long-form cursive penned on dated entries in small red notebooks.

The lab is just five minutes off an exit on Interstate 80. But there are no signs to mark the way to the cabin, which stands at the end of a dirt road and a steep hill. Even among UC Berkeley researchers and the biggest snow nerds in Tahoe, the laboratory has remained hidden, quietly collecting data for decades without much fanfare.

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