The drought that has plagued California for half a decade is over — and Lake Tahoe, tucked away high in the Sierra Nevada, is full for the first time in 11 years.
According to one water expert interviewed by Lake Tahoe’s local ABC affiliate (KOLO 8), California’s iconic lake is taking in more water than is evaporating on a daily basis:
“We have not been at capacity or we have not been this high since 2006,” said Chad Blanchard, Federal Water Master…
“…We have seen the largest physical rise in history, but we have also seen the largest total inflow in history,” said Blanchard.
A non-stop barrage of unprecedented storms starting in January — a phenomenon described by meteorologists as an “atmospheric river” — that closed down ski resorts is largely responsible for the snowpack that is now melting off, filling the lake.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle,
In the first three weeks of January alone, the region received nearly a full winter’s worth of snow. Then came February, and the Sierra Nevada was slammed yet again with moisture-packed chains of storms fueled by weather systems known as atmospheric rivers or the “Pineapple Express.”
When the first heat wave of the season hit in mid-June, more than 12 billion gallons of water flowed into the lake in a single week. Between June 16-23, the lake level rose four inches.
That unprecedented rise in a single week —which is almost double the entire 2015 snowmelt — occurred despite higher evaporation rates from the lake’s massive surface due to the intense heat. It forced water managers to release water into the Truckee River periodically for most of the summer to prevent snowmelt runoff from overfilling the lake.
The seemingly endless winter that had skiers hitting slopes well into June is now providing a steady supply of inflow to the lake due to the unprecedented runoff from snowmelt.
California’s infrastructure was taxed to the limit during the very wet winter, nearly causing a spillway at the nation’s tallest dam at Oroville to fail.
The lake level was nearly full at the beginning of July, peaking on July 9 at 6,229 feet, just short of 6,229.1 feet above sea level, the level at which it reaches full capacity.