Lighting during a disruptive mid-summer storm on Sunday knocked out power to more than 31,000 utility customers on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore and its surrounding areas, causing the first area-wide electrical outage in years, energy officials said.
The outage, which affected both California and Nevada sides of the lake’s southernmost community, started about 3:30 p.m. when a lightning strike occurred in an NV Energy substation south of Carson City, Nev.
The substation gives power to both NV Energy and Liberty Utilities substations in South Lake Tahoe that provide electricity to the community. Power was out for about six hours for some customers.
Businesses and homes gradually went dark during the first few hours of the blackout, while police officers directed vehicles through non-functioning traffic lights around town.
The South Lake Tahoe Police Department received no calls for traffic accidents during the incident. However, the department did have issues with a malfunctioning backup generator at the station, according to employees.
“The police department power went out, and the generator did not operate as it should,” said Lt. Brian Williams. “So we couldn’t answer 9-1-1 calls for a brief period of time until we got it fixed.”
Williams said the situation was resolved quickly with only a few 9-1-1 calls lost before they were rerouted to the sheriff’s department in Placerville.
Other issues stemming from stormy weather included an approximately three-hour delay of the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament and a less than 30-minute delay of the Zac Brown Band concert at Harveys Lake Tahoe.
The concert was completely self-powered during the electrical outage, but The Improv at Harvey’s Cabaret Theater was not, said John Packer, director of entertainment and public relations at Harrah’s and Harveys.
Consequently, the comedy show was canceled due to power restrictions.
As for the rest of Harveys, it — along with Harrah’s Lake Tahoe — benefited from the use of generators. Elevators continued to work during the blackout, along with the majority of casino games and some restaurants — albeit with limited menus.
“We haven’t added up the financial impact of the power outage,” he said, “but because of the limited menu and some restaurant closures during that period of time, there was some loss of revenue.“
Nevertheless, Packer said things went “pretty well” given the circumstances.
In other areas of the basin, heavy rainfall caused flooding near Logan House Creek and mud to flow onto sections of Highway 50 in Nevada.
South Lake Tahoe, for the most part, seemed to have experienced a weaker part of the storm, according to Jessica Kielhorn, forecaster for the National Weather Service.
“It looks like South Lake was a little out of it, meaning they didn’t have as much as the east part of the lake,” she said.
Rainfall totals varied throughout the basin Sunday, with Glenbrook taking the biggest hit with two-and-a half-inches of rain within 90 minutes, Kielhorn said.
In other parts of the basin, rainfall accumulated at almost half-an-inch in Tahoma, a little more than a third-of-an-inch in Tahoe City and a little more than a tenth-of-an-inch in South Lake Tahoe.
Winds gusts in South Lake Tahoe reached up to 30 mph, the forecaster added.
During the storm, the City of South Lake Tahoe kept people abreast of the power outage caused by the weather through the use of its Facebook page. Nearly 15,000 people saw the postings.
The police department issued calls with updates on the situation, but they could only be received through cell phones, as landlines were without power.
As a result, the city is asking the public to register their cell and landline phone numbers to receive updates in emergency situations. People can register at ready.edso.org.
Moving forward, Kielhorn said Lake Tahoe can expect more of the warm and sunny weather it’s accustomed to during the summer.
“We should dry out and heat back up,” she said.