Severe Drought Continues at Lake Tahoe in California and Nevada

Severe Drought Continues at Lake Tahoe in California and Nevada
By Jack Freer  |  Posted January 20, 2014  |  Stateline, Nevada

CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Desert Fog says he can feel the effects of drought not only in his area of Stateline, Nevada, but also in parts of California. He took photos of the landscape around Lake Tahoe and Hope Valley in California between January 14 through January 17, using a GoPro mounted on an unmanned aerial vehicle. ‘Conditions are very dry and having to water trees and plants due to no moisture. If condition remains the same, I will be concerned for local lakes and reservoirs and people on shallow domestic water wells,’ he said. ‘I have lived here for 22 years and have never seen it this dry.’

– Jareen, CNN iReport producer

With photographs like this, who would ever associate a clear and beautiful sunny day to severe weather? But the problem is that it should not be like this.

And it could turn in to an extremely critical situation.

On Sunday tourists visiting the California and Nevada state line towns of South Lake Tahoe and Stateline on the shore of Lake Tahoe were outside walking around enjoying the sights. Some were bundled up with jackets and boots thinking that they should dress like that because it is technically wintertime.

While others can be seen walking around in short sleeve shirts, shorts, and flip flops, who are just taking advantage of the unusually warm and dry weather for January. It feels like early spring.

The rust brown and green roofs of the Heavenly Village resort on the California side of the line right next to the casinos in Nevada are as dry as a bone. It is hard to spot any snow on the ground except for a light coating on the distant mountains across the lake.

From the north on the Nevada side looking back at the MontBleu, Harrah’s, Horizon and Harvey’s casinos, it is possible to see some snow in the almost constant shade areas provided by the buildings this time of year.

In an open area directly across from the casinos and resorts a man-made snow play area has been developed. Tourists can rent a snowmobile for a few spins around a flat oval track or sled or snowboard down and around a couple small bunny hills off in the far corner. The snow for the track is made using snow making machines at night. If it were not for that constant effort this field would be bare of snow.

At the beach and pier of the Timber Cove Marina just a few blocks from the casinos, it appears nice enough to be out on the water in one of the multicolor kayaks that are still locked up along the fence. Even though there is no snow, the water is still extremely cold.

Directly south of Lake Tahoe is the beautiful alpine valley of Hope Valley. During a normal winter it is a snow park for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. The area off the main highway is plowed to allow for access and parking and the gate to the back country is shut to allow snowmobiles and snow cats to operate in what should be several feet of snow.

But this year the snow cats are sitting on a very thin layer of ice and part of the pavement. The large yellow snow cat with the blue snow trail grooming trailer attached sits off to the side of the main snow road waiting for something to do. Also, on the inside of the locked gate are private snow cats, snowmobiles and a Jeep Cherokee with snow tracks replacing the tires, sitting on either partial pavement or a very thin and almost melted off layer of snow.

Off to the left in a clearing is a fleet of ready and waiting rental snowmobiles maintained by the Lake Tahoe Adventures company. The company busses tourists from the casinos and resorts at Lake Tahoe for what is normally a crowed and busy day on the snow. When I was there no tours were coming or going. A newly paved circular parking area for trucks towing snowmobile trailers was completely empty except for my Jeep. In any other year, anyone towing a snowmobile trailer to the snow park would have to arrive in the early morning to secure a parking spot. Parking is not a problem this year.

Beyond Hope Valley and 25 miles southeast of Lake Tahoe is Hwy. 89 which traverses Monitor Pass from US Hwy. 395 to Markleeville, California in a normal winter, the pass is shut for months under snows many feet deep. For the first time in as many years the pass was opened in January. In the middle of the pass is the Leviathan Peak lookout tower which sits at just under 9,000 feet. For as far as one can see from this commanding location there is no sign of any substantial snow cover.

Heading back to Lake Tahoe and driving down the road to the neighboring valley to the east, Carson Valley is even more dry and without snow than the high lake elevation. Looking back at the mountains holding Lake Tahoe, the snow cover looks more like early spring then the middle of winter.

The National Weather Service office in Reno, Nevada recently released the long-range weather outlooks for February through April. There is high confidence in the dry weather continuing and the global weather and ocean patterns are now favoring below normal precipitation for California and western Nevada.

The U.S. Drought Monitor was also updated with the biggest change in the expansion of the extreme drought category across most of the Sierra, northern and central California, and far western Nevada.

Last week Federal officials declared nine Nevada counties as primary natural disaster areas because of a drought. Those counties include Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area.