This summer, Lake Tahoe seemed warmer than usual even though we had a big winter. Was it really? And why wouldn’t it be colder with all the extra snowmelt?

Summer 2017 was definitively warmer — the warmest in 19 years. The temperature of the surface of the lake is entirely dependent on the number of sunny and warm days. The volume of snowmelt that flows into the lake is a drop in the bucket compared to the huge volume of water. The cold snowmelt water is denser than the surface waters and so dives down into the depths and does not significantly affect surface water temperatures.


Interestingly, last year’s lake temperatures were the coolest we’ve seen in 18 years. Data shows that this was more prevalent on the West Shore than the East Shore. This supports our hypothesis that 2016 was cold due to strong winds; prevailing southwesterly winds typically upwell cold water on the West Shore but don’t have much effect on East Shore temperatures. That effect also explains why Homewood temperatures are generally colder than Glenbrook temperatures, particularly in early summer when winds tend to be stronger and stratification is weaker.

~ UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center

Why did the Truckee downtown post office move the mailbox in the parking lot? It used to be easy to drop off mail from your car. Now, it’s awkward to drive up to and people often park in front of it.

The mailbox was moved because plowing on the street and in the parking lot made it hard to keep the box clear of snow. However, the post office is well aware of the issues with the new location. We’ve asked the USPS maintenance department in Reno if we could move it again, and they said no. While we try to find a new solution, we’re seeing if the USPS will consider doing more striping in front of the mailbox to warn people not to park there.

~ Melissa Darling, Truckee downtown post office supervisor

Rumor has it that the Tahoe City Dam gates are going to reopen to let more water out to make room for winter rain and snow, possibly flooding the Truckee River bike path again. Is this true?

Not true, says Chad Blanchard, the federal water master in Reno. Lake Tahoe is at 6,228.08 feet, a little more than one foot below its capacity of 6,229.1 (at its peak this summer, the lake was at 6,229.0 feet). The Truckee River is currently running at 50 cubic feet per second (cfs), the minimum flow allowable to keep a healthy fishery, with one gate at the Tahoe City Dam partially open. The federal water master has been working with the Federal Highway Authority to help create low releases to facilitate the construction of the new bridge across the river in Tahoe City. “We are doing what we can to help them take care of it this year,” Blanchard said. “If we have a big winter and start out high at Tahoe, we will have to pass more water, so it will be harder for construction next year.” However, Blanchard noted that the Truckee River would be running now around its current rate regardless of construction.

What will determine future releases from Lake Tahoe is Mother Nature.

“If it’s a dry year, we won’t need to, or won’t be able to, release extra water out of Tahoe,” said Blanchard. “We don’t know if it will be the wettest year ever or the driest year ever or somewhere in between. We have to wait and see. We may need that water if the winter is dry. Since we have a one-foot cushion, we feel much better going into winter.”
Since Tahoe is dropping sufficiently on its own, the federal water master is using this opportunity to release water out of Boca Reservoir to get down to flood control levels.
Bottom line, there won’t be any more significant releases from Tahoe until Father Winter lets loose rain or snow, or both, and the lake rises enough to warrant letting water out.

~ Melissa Siig/Moonshine Ink

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