New accelerator mass spectrometer radiocarbon ages from gastropods in shore deposits within the pluvial Lake Chewaucan basin, combined with stratigraphical and geomorphological evidence, identify an abrupt rise and fall of lake level at ca. 12 14C ka. The lake-level high is coeval with lake-level lows in the well-dated records of palaeolakes Bonneville and Lahontan, and with a period of relatively wet conditions in the more southerly Owens Lake basin. This spatial pattern of pluvial lake levels in the western USA at 12 14C ka indicates a variable synoptic response to climate forcing at this time. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.