Why doesn’t it snow in Lake Tahoe anymore?


Photo by Tim Rantz, I Love Lake Tahoe FB group

My first visit to Lake Tahoe was about six years ago I think, we were living on the east coast, in the south. We took a few days in San Francisco, then Yosemite of course, and eventually settled in a rented cabin in South Lake Tahoe.

It’s a place not hard to fall in love with. We poked around Fallen Leaf Lake, mountain biked up to Angora Lakes, and had beers in some of the busy tourist spots. A couple of years ago we finally discovered the north end, and that’s when we realized it’s a place we’re always going to have high on our list of regular western destinations. Maybe live eventually.

On that first visit, a local was sharing with us tales of feet-deep snow falls. He mentioned that the only month in which he didn’t see snow was August, and that in winter roads were impassable and people used snowmobiles to get around. Living in North Carolina at the time, we conjured images of thick white Himalayan landscapes bordering this exquisite lake and night after night of thick, quarter-sized flakes creating auras around dimming street lights.


Photo by Dawn Luke, I Love Lake Tahoe FB group

So when we moved to Las Vegas in 2011, the prospect of weekend trips to Lake Tahoe had us jonesing for winter. Sure, Utah is right here; but the prospect of being entrenched in high Sierra powder above the cold blue of the nation’s second deepest lake was plenty to keep us glued to the weather report.

After a decent but unimpressive trip in 2012, which we blew off as just a bad season, we headed north again the next year. Our visions of abominable snowscapes were once again dashed. Squaw Valley, the one-time home of the Winter Olympics, was boasting about a 20-inch base. A very small number of runs managed to earn some traffic, consisting mainly of iced-over pond-sourced snow. Anytime in Tahoe is a good one, but as a ski trip, it left everything to be desired.

“… the prospect of being entrenched in high Sierra powder above the cold blue of the nation’s second deepest lake was plenty to keep us glued to the weather report.”

And that’s when someone turned off the faucet.

This week, two of the smaller Sierra-area resorts, Dodge Ridge and Badger Pass in Yosemite, announced they are shutting things down until the forecast dictates otherwise. Tahoe Donner Cross Country near Truckee has also called it quits for while because of thin snow.


The lake’s waterline has been peeled back from its normal place of impact with the shore, like there’s a leak somewhere deep in its dark, cold middle. Dock columns are exposed along the entire shoreline and in Reno, ducks are dying en-masse as a result of avian botulism, perpetuated by low water levels in Virginia Lake.

Those low water levels are a result of a barely flowing Truckee River, Lake Tahoe’s only exit. In South Lake Tahoe, snowpack is 33% of normal.

“The lake’s waterline has been peeled back from its normal place of impact with the shore …”

Positive thinkers are correct when they remind us that, “All it takes is a couple of big storms to right the ship.”

I don’t want to spread misery or further retard the trickle of tourism revenue to the Lake Tahoe region, but the ship is going to need its hull patched.

Ultimately, this is a plea for snow, an observation that the lack of consistent precipitation over the last two winters (although the current drought is reported to have started four years ago) has become downright scary. Like, science-fiction movie creepy.

I don’t know enough about meteorology or global warming to confidently assign blame for the absence of winter in California. I do know enough to say that if you don’t believe in climate change the odds are in favor of your head having once been cracked open to replace your brain with about a cup’s worth of hardened Cream of Wheat.

Historic things are happening with our weather of late, and you can’t blame it on the imaginations of liberal lawmakers. The debate on exactly how big an impact man has on climate change is ongoing; but rest assured, there’s plenty to debate. Like China. Salt Lake City inversions. Palm forest clearing. And coal-fired power plants.

All that aside, I just want to know why it doesn’t snow in Lake Tahoe anymore.

Any ideas?

How prepared is your state for water doom?

NRDC map

click the map to find out more about your state.

The Natural Resources Defense Council put together a rather handy spreadsheet detailing which states are better prepared—if at all—for the impending water apocalypse. This isn’t just about plans to deal with temporary summer droughts. Rather, this is a list for when we reach a “Holy shit the country’s a super-heated barren sand pit, what the hell do we do now?” situation. One would think the southwestern states would be all doomsday prepper for this kind of event. Apparently, not so much.

Download the PDF map here.