Lake Tahoe locals remember the flood of 1997
Former South Lake Tahoe resident Danny Lukins does not remember a great deal of concern and attention about flooding as 1996 was on the verge of giving way to 1997.
“We had 2 or 3 feet of snow and it started raining pretty heavily,” Lukins, who now lives in the Gardnerville area, said. “It wasn’t as cold as it has been this year.”
Indeed, a headline on page 2 of the Jan. 1, 1997 Tahoe Daily Tribune read “Fear of flooding begins to subside.” Above the story ran a photo of a rainbow over Lake Tahoe.
The following day, Jan. 2, 1997, the main headline on page 1 of the Tribune read “ Floods drench Tahoe.”
The driving rain from a Pacific storm soaked the entire Tahoe region causing the Truckee River to flood U.S. 50 and inundate other roadways around Lake Tahoe, in the Carson Valley, in Reno and elsewhere. The rain closed U.S. 50 at Spooner Summit when mudslides crossed all four lanes of traffic, and at Echo Summit due to rockslides.
At the time Bill Kingman lived at the corner of Colorado Avenue and Montezuma Avenue in Tahoe Keys — the lowest point in the neighborhood, according to Kingman.
“That river [the Truckee River] overflowed and flooded the entire meadow and came right down the street … the whole meadow was underwater.”
Kingman was lucky in that the flood waters did not enter his home, although his garage did flood. The long-time resident, who now lives in Stateline, remembers parking his car a block or two away on Michael Drive and trudging through several feet of water. He bought a pair of waist-high waders.
He doesn’t remember ever being ordered to evacuate and he never did, although reporting by the Tribune at the time stated evacuations had taken place on certain streets in Tahoe Keys, including Colorado Avenue. Some residents, the Tribune reported, opted to stick it out.
When Kingman had the home built in the mid 1970s, he recalls being told the property was in a 99-year floodplain, meaning floods were to be expected every 99 years, he said, adding 1997 was the third and worst flood he experienced in the home.
“I must have lived there 300 years because it flooded three times,” he joked.
On Jan. 2, the city of South Lake Tahoe declared a state of emergency.
“In a desperate attempt to save valuable property, many residents near those evacuated could be seen loading furniture and other belongings into large vehicles. Passing cars create wakes that rivaled those of speedboats,” the Tribune reported in the Jan. 3 edition.
The rain and previous snow caused Lake Tahoe to rise “to its highest level in modern time … rising 6 inches in a day to surpass the lake’s legal storage capacity.”
With the passage of 20 years, some memories of the storm have softened.
“There’s been events but they’ve never really been life threatening and I never heard of anyone who was flooded out of their [home],” Lukins said Friday, as the region prepared for a weekend storm.