Let’s start with the good news. For an alpine oasis, Lake Tahoe is home to some of the best summer weather you’ll find. Ample amounts of sunshine. Perfect temps. And most of all, jaw-dropping views. With that being said, when you do shove off in a kayak, canoe, on a paddleboard, or any other human powered watercraft, you should understand Lake Tahoe weather in June, July, August or pretty much ANY month so you can be prepared and plan ahead.
Mountain Weather Can Change Quick!
High pressure LOVES California in the summer. On average, the sun shines 90% of the time over the largest alpine lake in North America. And high temps during the summer months hover between 69 and 77 degrees making for glorious paddling weather. Despite the perfect weather, Lake Tahoe water is always cold, even on the hottest days of summer. Be sure to check the weather and lake conditions before you hit the water.
Like clock-work winds build from the southwest every afternoon that can create challenging paddle conditions.
Insider Tip: Watch for the blue line coming across the lake and prepare. Almost daily, strong winds travel down the western mountain slopes and funnel through steep canyons. The result is strong blasts of wind that appear on the surface of the lake like a dark blue line. These strong winds will change your gentle paddle into an athletic event. And remember even before you encounter the mountain winds, check the wind and marine forecasts for the day and plan your trip accordingly.
The Washoe Zephyr
Even if a storm isn’t approaching and there isn’t a cloud in sight, Lake Tahoe weather in June, July, and August have a phenomenon called the “Washoe Zephyr.” While temps are comfortable in the 70’s at the lake, just a few miles east and a couple thousand feet lower is Carson Valley. Down there, it can be as much as thirty or forty degrees warmer. This temperature difference creates daily powerful winds in the afternoon. These are not a joke and have stranded many unaware paddlers. Mark Twain described it best:
“A Washoe wind is by no means a trifling matter. It blows flimsy houses down, lifts shingle roofs occasionally, rolls up tin ones like sheet music, now and then blows a stage-coach over and spills the passengers; and tradition says the reason there are so many bald people there is, that the wind blows the hair off their heads while they are looking skyward after their hats.”
That Water Is Melted Snow!
Another thing most people don’t stop to consider is WHERE all that water in Lake Tahoe comes from. Every winter on average, 500 inches of snow fall on these peaks. As winter transitions to spring, this frozen H2O rapidly becomes liquid flowing into Big Blue helping replenish it. Although it doesn’t freeze in the winter, the surface temps are in the chilly upper 40s. They do slowly rise, and by August reach the mid 60s – maybe.
Cold Water Shock Leading Cause Of Death
The most common misunderstanding is that these chilly waters will kill you from hypothermia. Rather, it’s cold-water shock. Instead of a slow death, what happens is when you quickly get immersed in cold water, it can cause an involuntary gasp, difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, or muscle failure. Even if you’re a good swimmer, any of these can lead to drowning.
What To Wear Kayaking
Does that mean you shouldn’t go out on the water? Absolutely not! All you have to do is check the wind and weather forecast at https://laketahoewatertrail.org/weather/ and wear a personal flotation device (P.F.D. for short). Think of it as a seatbelt for water fun. Would you drive on an expressway without a seat belt? We hope not. If you want to learn more about how to gear up for a paddling adventure, be sure to read our article: Paddle, Paddle, Glide: What To Wear Kayaking.
Having an understanding about Lake Tahoe weather in June, July, and August is just one aspect that you need to be aware of. If it’s your first time visiting or even first time ever kayaking, we recommend checking out our A Beginner’s Guide On How To Enjoy The Lake Tahoe Water Trail. With advanced planning and being aware of the risks, you can avoid them and come home safe with a great story to tell.
The Lake Tahoe Water Trail is a Sierra Business Council sustainable recreation tourism project. Learn more about SBC's innovative social, environmental and economic development projects in the Sierra Nevada at www.sierrabusiness.org.