Lake Tahoe is a big freshwater lake in the United States’ Sierra Nevada. It straddles the California-Nevada border, west of Carson City, at 6,225 feet (1,897 meters). Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, with 122,160,280 acre-ft (150,682,490 dam3), second only to the five Great Lakes in terms of volume. It is the second deepest lake in the United States, after Crater Lake in Oregon (1,945 ft (593 m) with a depth of 1,645 ft (501 m).
The lake was developed as part of the Lake Tahoe Basin around 2 million years ago, with the contemporary extent molded throughout the glacial ages. It’s noted for its crystal clear water and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains on all sides.
Lake Tahoe, or simply Tahoe, is the name given to the area surrounding the lake. The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the United States Forest Service is responsible for more than 75 percent of the lake’s watershed.
In both Nevada and California, Lake Tahoe is a popular tourist destination. Winter sports, summer outdoor recreation, and year-round scenery may all be found here. The business and reputation of the area are heavily reliant on snow and ski resorts. Large casinos can also be found on the Nevada side, with freeways offering year-round access to the entire region.
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With a maximum depth of 1,645 feet (501 meters), Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the United States, trailing only Oregon’s Crater Lake at 1,949 feet (594 m). Tahoe is the world’s 16th deepest lake, and the fifth deepest on average. It is 22 miles (35 kilometers) long and 12 miles (19 kilometers) wide, with 72 miles (116 kilometers) of shoreline and a surface area of 191 square miles (490 km2). California accounts for almost two-thirds of the coastline.
The lake’s main city, South Lake Tahoe, California, adjoins the town of Stateline, Nevada, on the lake’s south bank, while Tahoe City, California, lies on the lake’s northwest side. Although numerous areas of the lakeshore are within sight of roadways across much of Tahoe’s perimeter, many vital parts of the shoreline are preserved by the US Forest Service.
The Lake Tahoe Watershed (USGS Huc 18100200) covers 505 square miles (1,310 square kilometers), and the Lake Tahoe drainage divide runs through the same approximate area as the Tahoe Rim Trail.
63 tributaries feed Lake Tahoe. These drain an area roughly the same size as the lake and create half of its water, with the rest falling directly on it as rain or snow.
The Truckee River, which flows northeast through Reno, Nevada, into Pyramid Lake, which has no exit, is the lake’s only outlet. It is responsible for one-third of the water that departs the lake, with the remainder evaporating on the road surface. The Lake Tahoe Dam at the exit regulates the flow of the Truckee River and the height of the lake. The natural rim is 6,223 feet (1,897 meters) above sea level, with an overflow spillway near the dam. The highest permitted limit for allowing the lake to rise in order to store water is 6,229.1 feet (1,898.6 m). A Pineapple Express atmospheric river melted snow around New Year’s Day 1996/1997, causing the lake and river to overflow, inundating Reno and the neighboring towns.
Vertical motion (normal) faulting formed the Lake Tahoe Basin. The Carson Range on the east and the main Sierra Nevada crest on the west were formed by uplifted blocks. Between them, the Lake Tahoe Basin was formed by down-dropped blocks (grabens). The geology of the Great Basin to the east is characterized by this type of faulting.
The Walker Lane deformation zone accommodates about 12 mm/yr of dextral shear between the Sierra Nevada-Great Valley Block and North America, and Lake Tahoe is the youngest of numerous extensional basins of the Walker Lane deformation zone.
The Lake Tahoe basin is formed by three major faults: the West Tahoe Fault, which runs between Emerald Bay and Tahoe City and is a local segment of the Sierra Nevada Fault, which extends onshore north and south of these towns; the East Tahoe Fault, which runs along the eastern shoreline; and the North Tahoe Fault, which runs deep beneath the northern part of the lake. The most active and potentially dangerous fault in the basin looks to be the West Tahoe Fault. A study conducted at Fallen Leaf Lake, just south of Lake Tahoe, employed seafloor mapping techniques to scan evidence for paleo earthquakes on the West Tahoe, revealing that the most recent earthquake happened between 4,100 and 4,500 years ago. Submarine landslides have been discovered in Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe, which are assumed to have been generated by earthquakes on the West Tahoe fault, with a recurrence interval of 3,000–4,000 years based on the chronology of these occurrences.
Freel Peak, at 10,891 feet (3,320 meters), Monument Peak, at 10,067 feet (3,068 meters), Pyramid Peak, at 9,984 feet (3,043 meters) (in the Desolation Wilderness), and Mount Tallac, at 9,735 feet (3,735 meters) are some of the highest peaks in the Lake Tahoe Basin that formed during the process of Lake Tahoe creation (2,967 m). Mount Rose, Houghton, and Relay summits are all over 10,000 feet on the north shore. Mt. Rose is a popular backcountry skiing and hiking location.
On the north side, eruptions from the extinct volcano Mount Pluto created a dam. The primordial Lake Tahoe was formed when melting snow flooded the southern and lowest parts of the basin. Additional water was added by rain and runoff.
During the Ice Ages, which began a million or more years ago, scouring glaciers formed and manicured modern Lake Tahoe.
The basin’s soils are mostly made up of andesitic volcanic rocks and granodiorite, with some metamorphic rock thrown in for good measure. Glacial moraines, or glacial outwash material generated from the parent rock, cover some valley bottoms and lower hill slopes. Over 70% of the land area in the basin is made up of sandy soils, rock outcrops and rubble, and stony colluvium. In the 0.05–2.0 mm portion, the basin soils are often 65–85 percent sand (0.05–2.0 mm).
Modeling implies that earthquakes on these faults can cause tsunamis because of Lake Tahoe’s depth and the placements of normal faults within the deepest parts of the lake. These tsunamis are expected to have wave heights of 10 to 33 feet (3 to 10 meters), capable of crossing the lake in a matter of minutes. A tsunami/seiche wave with a height of roughly 330 feet is considered to have been caused by a major collapse of the western edge of the basin that formed McKinney Bay around 50,000 years ago (100 m).
Lake Tahoe has a continental climate with dry summers (Dsb in the Koeppen climate classification). Watersheds on the west side of the basin receive over 55 inches (1440 mm) of annual precipitation, while watersheds on the east side of the basin receive about 26 inches (660 mm). Between November and April, the majority of the precipitation falls as snow, although the biggest floods are caused by rainstorms paired with quick snowmelt. Snowmelt has a significant yearly outflow in late spring and early summer, with the date varying from year to year. Summertime monsoon storms from the Great Basin can produce heavy rains, especially to high elevations on the basin’s northeast border.
August is the warmest month at Lake Tahoe Airport (elevation 6,254 ft, 1,906 m), with average high temperatures of 78.7 °F (25.9 °C) and lowest temperatures of 39.8 °F (4.3 °C). With an average maximum of 41.0 °F (5.0 °C) and a low of 15.1 °F (9.4 °C), January is the coolest month. On July 22, 1988, the temperature reached an all-time high of 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37.2 degrees Celsius). On December 9, 1972, and February 7, 1989, the temperature dropped to a record low of 29 degrees Fahrenheit (33.9 degrees Celsius). On an average of 2.0 days every year, temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 degrees Celsius). Minimum temperatures of 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) or lower occur on an average of 231.8 days each year, and minimum temperatures of 0 degrees Fahrenheit (17.8 degrees Celsius) or lower occur on an average of 7.6 days per year. Every month of the year has seen below-freezing temperatures.