Frozen Truckee River in Tahoe City: Officials urge caution when having fun
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Rafting, kayaking and fishing are common activities on the Truckee River. But this past week, temperatures dropped low enough to allow people to ice skate, walk and bike on is frozen surface in Tahoe City.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen the Truckee River freeze over like that,” said Olympic Valley resident Andrew Baldock, who skated on the river this weekend. “It was a pretty amazing experience.”
Between Dec. 30, 2014, and Jan. 4, the National Weather Service recorded low temperatures ranging from 10 to 24 degrees and highs of 27 to 47 degrees in Tahoe City, said meteorologist Wendell Hohmann.
The recent cold spell — which saw overnight lows in the single digits in some areas — combined with the Truckee River’s low levels due to the ongoing Western drought allowed it to freeze, he said.
On Monday, the Truckee River in Tahoe City was 1.37 feet deep, with a flow rate of 20 cubic feet per second, Hohmann said.
“It’s barely flowing, which is why it didn’t take too many days to freeze over there,” Hohmann said.
The development has people “pretty fired up,” said Jeff Dostie, manager for Alpenglow Sports in Tahoe City.
“It’s a special event that’s very rare,” he said. “… It makes it such a great way to appreciate the cold weather.”
Local weather historian Mark McLaughlin said ice harvesting and organized skating parties took place on the Truckee River around Tahoe City in the 19th century and turn of the 20th century.
More recently, pictures taken in December 1990 show people skating and playing hockey on the Truckee River, he said.
“I don’t think it’s that uncommon,” McLaughlin said. “ … I think almost any given winter, depending on flow, pieces of the Truckee River freeze, especially the upper portion.”
Yet snowfall often covers the ice, he added.
The North Tahoe Fire Protection District urges those who venture onto frozen rivers, lakes and ponds do so with “extreme caution.”
“Lake Tahoe’s changeable weather and the speed at which ice can melt and shift guarantees that it is never 100 percent safe,” a press release from the district states. “… Numerous factors — many unseen — can change a safe outing to one that is deadly.”
Snow cover, wind, thawed and refrozen ice, and under-flowing water all cause unseen changes in ice quality, according to the fire district.
To ensure safety, the district recommends wearing a life jacket or float coat when out on the ice; dressing appropriately to prevent hypothermia; going out with others; bringing a cellphone; carrying two ice picks, screwdrivers or large nails to get out of water if you fall in; bringing a noisemaker to alert others if in distress; and avoiding alcoholic beverages.
In the event of an accident, immediately call 911.
“The number of victims grows quickly when friends or bystanders try to go on the ice to help out,” NTFPD Operations Chief Steve Simons said in a statement.
According to the National Weather Service in Reno, the extended forecast shows daytime temperatures in the mid-40s to lower-50s throughout the Truckee-Tahoe region, with below-freezing temperatures at night, into next week.
“There could be some thawing of the river as the week progresses,” Hohmann advised.
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