Record dry year for Lake Tahoe Basin

Lack of moisture means there is more beach area surrounding Lake Tahoe. Photo/Kathryn Reed

Lack of moisture means there is more beach area surrounding Lake Tahoe. Photo/Kathryn Reed

By Kathryn Reed

Lake Tahoe and many parts of California and Nevada are setting records for being so dry.

Tahoe City receives on average 31.55 inches of precipitation each year. It has received 8.08 inches for 2013. Records date to 1910.

The last significantly dry year was in 1976 when 9.34 inches of precip fell.

South Lake Tahoe’s numbers are not as old and are not as detailed. But the entire basin, Truckee, Reno and Carson areas all in the same dry predicament.

“The high pressure could leave us in a dry pattern in the Sierra for another week or two,” Jessica Kielhorn, meteorologist technician with the National Weather Service in Reno, told Lake Tahoe News.

That ridge of high pressure is just sitting off the California coast, which is causing the dry spell. Storms keep going north and northeast of here.

tc weather

Source: National Weather Service

Statewide electronic readings show the snowpack water content is 20 percent of normal for the date. The first manual reading of the season near the entrance to Sierra-at-Tahoe is Friday. A year ago the snowpack was 150 percent of normal for this time of year.

The official water year ends June 30, so there is time for the water year to be salvaged.

However, the lack of moisture throughout California and Nevada makes this the third year in a row for below normal precipitation.

Snowpack provides for about one-third of California’s drinking and irrigation water.

Normally the hills in the Bay Area and land in the Sacramento Valley are a vibrant green at the start of a new year. That won’t be the case for 2014. They aren’t even the golden brown of summer. The land is barren; not even suitable for grazing.

Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin on Dec. 13 mobilized a drought management team “to offset potentially devastating impacts to citizen health, well-being and our economy.” Four days later, Gov. Jerry Brown set up a Drought Task Force. Drought conditions are being felt in 94.25 percent of California, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

For now, farmers are likely to receive 5 percent of the water they expected. This means some fields will be fallow, while plantings will be scaled back elsewhere. This in turn affects produce prices and unemployment numbers. Both will increase.

The lack of snow is clearly impacting the Lake Tahoe Basin when it comes to tourism. Usually it’s near impossible to get a hotel room this week. But there are several vacancy signs along Highway 50 in South Lake Tahoe.

While ski resorts are open, the bulk of the slopes are covered with man-made snow. Even then, no resort has 100 percent of its terrain open.

If the snow and rain stays away, the other threat to worry about will be wildfires.

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Comments (8)
  1. tahoe Pizza Eater says - Posted: December 31, 2013

    History : The last time drought was this bad you could walk 100 yards out on a beach (some places) before you’d get your feet wet. Bushes were growing out in the lake where there had normally been four foot deep water. That was over twenty years ago. Then snow came again the following November and December. In January, a warm storm came in. The storm was so warm there was rain on top of Carson Pass during January. Snow melted at an amazing rate and the rivers filled. A landslide blocked highway 50 between Meyers and Placerville. There was flooding throughout the region. The casinos in Reno were flooded when the Truckee River overflowed. During that January the water filled Lake Tahoe back up to it’s rim. This all happened in a one year period.

  2. Perry R. Obray says - Posted: December 31, 2013

    The winters of 81/82, 82/83 were full blown El ninos for the S.F. Bay Area and Tahoe. Snow above 8K feet at Heavenly tends to be awesome these types of winters. At least the walking around at lake level south shore is easier during a winter situation we are in now.

  3. rock4tahoe says - Posted: December 31, 2013

    Pizza, what don’t you understand about “record dry year?”

  4. A.B. says - Posted: December 31, 2013

    I was here in 1976. It was worse. We had two back to back years where the total snowfall on the pacific crest barely broke 60″. Absolutely brutal.

    The Global Warming crowd claims that the cause of this is overpopulation on the west coast. Population density from San Francisco to San Diego has created an urban heat bubble that serves as ridge of high pressure blocking storms that would normally hit the west coast.

    I don’t see them dispersing.

  5. tahoe Pizza Eater says - Posted: December 31, 2013

    Thanks A. B. for info on those worse drought years. An El nino year would go far to get us out of this mess. For those of you who don’t know about “El nino” years, here’s what happens. The warm equator current shifts northward in the Pacific ocean. This is called the El nino current. The waters off the California coast are warmed, by the El nino current and evaporation increases off the coast of California. The increased water (clouds) in the atmosphere is wind blown over the Sierra Mountains producing excessive snowfall over an entire winter. This isn’t happening anytime this year. The natural process requires the current shift to occur prior to the winter. Presently, this is a bad drought, and I don’t like the looks of this either.

  6. worldcycle says - Posted: December 31, 2013

    A, I was living in Squaw for those two back to back years. My memory is fuzzy, but I do distinctly remember that one of the two seasons of 76/77 or 77/78 that the very first snowfall of the year was on January 1st. So once again, I will give the link to the Sierra Snow Lab for snow fall from 1879 to 2010. As you can tell there is no 7 or 10 year cycle. No patterns. Complete randomness throughout the 130 year period. I do believe that some of that 130 period was prior to California coastal population density and the peaking of the industrial revolution leading to global warming as we know it today. All of you global warming extremists out there remember, this is the climate for Donner Summit only.

    Here is the link

  7. A.B. says - Posted: December 31, 2013

    Thanks for the graph link worldcycle. did you notice the brutal drought around 1880. That was before the global warming alarmists could lay claim to global warming.

    You’re correct that there are no patterns either. Some wet years, some moderate, some dry. No trend whatsoever. That sure does take the wind out of the Global Warm Ongers

  8. rock4tahoe says - Posted: December 31, 2013

    You don’t see a pattern World. Today, December 31, was I believe 56 degrees and the record for this date was I believe 54 set just two years ago in 2011.