Massive winter means smaller beaches at Lake Tahoe this summer
Lake Tahoe beachgoers should prepare for those sandy slices of heaven to be skinnier this year with some areas inaccessible for a while after winter’s fury.
The lake is full and beaches are going to be smaller later into the summer while the mountains shed their snowy blanket.
It’s going to be a tight fit while enjoying part of Tahoe’s glory.
“We suggest you arrive early to beat the crowds, be courteous to others and use this opportunity to explore new areas,” said Lisa Herron of the Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
The lake level as of Thursday was 6 feet above its natural rim, inches from full legal capacity.
According to the Tahoe Fund fun facts, if California was a lake, the water in Tahoe could fill it and the water level would be 14 inches deep.
The water in the lake also would be enough to supply each person in the country with 50 gallons of water per day for five years.
Tahoe’s maximum depth is 1,645 feet.
With all that water in the lake, snowmelt doesn’t affect the temperature hardly at all, especially on the surface.
Snowmelt plunges to the bottom of the lake due to its higher density which can affect temperatures well below the surface.
So once in the water, scuba divers may want to think about extra layers, but swimmers, kayakers and paddleboarders won’t feel a difference.
“Snowmelt affects the lake temperature very little,” said Geoff Schladow, director at UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center in Incline Village. “In an average year the snowmelt contributes about 0.1% of the lakes water. And much of that water flows in very deeply where swimmers will never experience it.”
What swimmers will notice is the effect wind has on the water temperature.
The prevailing southwest winds effectively blow the warm surface water eastward forcing cooler deeper water to rise up on the west shore, Schladow said.
“As the winds occur most days, the west coast beaches are a few degrees cooler than the east coast beaches,” Schladow said. “After strong winds have been blowing for a day or two, the West Shore can be 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the East Shore. Seems unbelievable, but there are many years of data confirming this.”
The water temperature is hovering around 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit according to NASA buoys moored around the lake.
The average temperature in July according to the Tahoe Fund is about 65 degrees.
The weather is the biggest factor affecting lake temperature with the wind the largest single impact, Schladow said.
He said the windier it gets, the more water evaporates and that tends to cool the water.
“A couple of years ago July had unusually cool water temperatures despite warm air temperatures,” Schladow said. “The reason was that it was unusually windy that month.”
The water is still plenty cold enough to produce a “cold shock response,” the body’s response when to jumping into cold water that could lead to drowning in seconds.
With smaller areas to set up camp, it’s going to be important to observe some beach etiquette.
That means sharing the prime real estate, being polite and courteous to your neighbors and by all means don’t haul out that big charcoal barbecue on to any forest service beaches, they are not allowed.
Herron said charcoal can negatively impact the water quality of our lakes, streams and rivers.
Propane stoves are allowed in all areas with a valid campfire permit.
As for campfires, they are the leading cause of unwanted wildfires at Lake Tahoe, Herron said.
“Campfires are only allowed in metal fire rings in designated campgrounds like Fallen Leaf and Nevada Beach,” Herron said. “Campfires are not allowed in Desolation Wilderness, Meiss Country, along Genoa Peak Road, the Tahoe Rim Trail or in any existing rock fire rings.”