Emerald Bay Freezes Over for the First Time in 30 Years

The Sierra Nevada has experienced extreme winter weather the past few months, causing Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay to freeze over completely for the first time in 30 years.

Emerald Bay is known for its shimmering colors, the Vikingsholm Castle, and a stunning mountain backdrop. Although Lake Tahoe never freezes over, the contained nature of the bay allows it to rarely develop a layer of ice atop the water. The last time it was completely covered with a sheet of ice was in 1989 and 1993, with the 1950s being the next recorded instance.

The shallow glistening body of water is located about 12 miles north of South Lake Tahoe, with an average depth of 150 to 170 feet, and 230 feet at its deepest point right off Fannette Island. It’s common for the bay to freeze to a certain extent, especially along the edges. The bay is only known to completely freeze over during extremely cold winters, with winter temperatures at Emerald Bay State Park averaging from a high of 40 to a low of about 20 degrees.

The National Weather Service recorded temperatures well below freezing for much of the past week, including a particularly frigid stretch Wednesday into Thursday at or near single digits. Two storms are hitting the region this week, which will cause flooding and create dangerous road conditions.

Visitors are being warned not to visit Emerald Bay for sightseeing due to the ice not being thick enough for people to walk on. The ice is only about 6 inches thick and therefore dangerous, with officials observing evidence of avalanche activity and several downed trees in the area the past week. Temperatures are expected to peak at about 40 degrees through the week, meaning that the full ice coating may not stick around for very long.

Park officials recommend a summertime trip, as Emerald Bay State Park’s many vistas and hiking trails make it a can’t-miss stop for Lake Tahoe visitors and residents alike. The waters of the bay were named “a special underwater area” in 1994 as part of Emerald Bay State Park, which was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1969. About 3 million people visit Lake Tahoe every year, with the vast majority of them driving straight to Emerald Bay because of how beautiful it is.

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