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Hail, thunder, showers strike South Lake Tahoe

Isaac Brambila
ibrambila@tahoedailytribune.com
Chris Brackett gathered hail the size of golf balls in during a storm Wednesday afternoon.
Courtesy Chris Brackett |

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — Thunder, golf-ball-size hail, intense showers and a rare waterspout struck the South Shore this week, intensifying as the week progressed.

Among the highlights of the rare weather brought by the mid-July storm was the waterspout, which formed at about 9 p.m. Wednesday near Emerald Bay. The last waterspout in the area was reported in 2004, according to Marvin Boyd, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno.

“It was absolutely surreal,” Brett Kendall, of local FOLK Brewing Co. who captured a photo of the event, wrote in an email Thursday. “It was dark and the thunderstorm was becoming active over the lake. Towards Emerald Bay, we saw this huge dark grey funnel extending all the way from the lake into the clouds above.”



“There was what appeared to be a spray at the bottom of the plume that was probably 100-plus feet high, as it moved across the lake,” he added. “We watched as it moved fairly steadily away from Emerald Bay toward the Tahoe Keys. It was moving fast. Thunder and lightning started, and we actually saw it clear as day whenever the lightning struck. I have lived [in] Lake Tahoe almost my whole life, and this was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was truly awe-inspiring.”

A waterspout is an intense columnar vortex that resembles a tornado. Wednesday’s waterspout was likely caused by a strong, compact cell with rotation, Boyd said. Waterspouts can also be caused by heating differential, but the time when it formed makes it unlikely that was the cause.



On Wednesday, the area was also hit by intense hail at about 1 p.m. The storm began with rain that intensified in a matter of minutes and then turned to hail. As the minutes went by, the hail increased in size and reached a size close to that of a golf ball. The hail covered the ground and roads in many areas, creating hazardous driving conditions.

“Crazy big hail stones fell from the sky a few minutes ago!” Chris Brackett of South Tahoe SUP wrote in a photo caption on his Facebook page. “Went out like a little kid on an Easter egg hunt a picked a few up!”

Boyd said hailstorms are always possible this time of year, but not in the size seen Wednesday. Hail this time of year is typically limited to about pea size.

The prolonged rainy weather has also been unusual, Boyd said. Scattered rains in June and into July are not unusual, but the continuous rain spreading over roughly a week is.

The area has been experiencing a push of moisture from the south for about three weeks, he added.

The U.S. Forest Service had been heavily monitoring lightning strikes, but had virtually no damage to report, largely due to wet conditions that helped limit fire danger, Public and Legislative Affairs Officer Cheva Gabor said Thursday.

Personnel responded to a single-tree fire in the area of Luther Pass that was quickly controlled. The agency also received a report of smoke coming from a tree in the area of Thompson Peak and was monitoring the activity, but it appeared rain had controlled the problem.

The Lake Valley Fire Protection District was on standby but had not responded to any significant calls as of Thursday afternoon.

South Lake Tahoe Fire Department and Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District could not be immediately reached.

Boyd reminded people to stay out of the water during thunderstorms, as water provides added danger from lightning strikes. He also encouraged hikers and other people to better prepare for shifting temperatures by wearing or carrying appropriate clothing.

Gabor stressed that, though conditions have been moist lately, the U.S. Forest Service is allocating resources to monitoring and addressing lightning in the area. She asked the public to take extra precautions to prevent wildfires and help the Forest Service continue its focus on preventing lighting fires.

Rain and thunderstorm conditions were expected continue into Friday but clear up in the coming days.


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