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Tahoe Twisters®


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TAHOE TWISTER A Story of an Angel's Rising

By Gary Kaufman

On September 26, 1998 at approximately nine o'clock in the morning, a huge waterspout rose from the mysteriously calm waters of Lake Tahoe like a waterfall in reverse, rising in a spiraling column to the stormy sky above. An avid photographer of the lake, I had two cameras set up on tripods. I'd been watching from my perch on the side of the mountain on Tahoe's north shore since the first rope spouts started forming from the east, a couple of hours earlier. The giant spout lasted approximately two minutes but the majestic phenomenon is caught forever in the incredible images known as the Tahoe Twister Series.

A waterspout is a column of rotating wind that develops downward from a line of cumulus clouds to a body of water that is warmer than the air. Spouts can pack winds up to 200 miles per hour and will move across the water in speeds up to 10 to 15 miles per hour. They have been observed to reach heights of 10,000 feet. They rarely occur in high altitude mountain lakes, such as Lake Tahoe, which is situated at 6229 feet elevation between the Carson Mountain Range to the east and the Sierra Nevada to the west. In fact, waterspouts are so rare in mountain lakes that only a few have ever been recorded any where in the world. The fact that there were at least six of these twisters observed on September 26, 1998 makes it even more unusual.

Scientists who arrived later in Tahoe from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study this phenomenon reported that the twister rotated in a clockwise direction-something that occurs approximately once in a thousand events. Stranger still, one of the spouts was of unusual size approximately 250 feet in diameter. In fact, according to the scientists this was one of the largest water spouts ever seen documented any where in the world. This "Tahoe Twister" could have posed a serious threat if it had encountered any boats or structures on the shore.

Upon developing the photos I saw the large twister was even more unusual. In the first photograph of the triptych series (three photos put together to show the sequence of the twister formation) my friends and family saw the wings and head of an "angel" rising from the lake. Our excitement over this discovery continues. Years later, many of us still get goose bumps over this beautiful and spiritual image.

The Washoe Indians, who frequented the Lake Tahoe area, have a legend about the Tahoe waterspouts, which they call "Water Babies. Upon the death of their Chiefs, the Washoe tribal members would bury them in the lake. It was their belief that the Water Spouts which occurred on rare occasions came to take their Chiefs to Heaven. Could they be the Angel(s) Rising???

Lake Tahoe Facts:
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Elev. 6229 feet above sea level, located on the California/Nevada Border

Length --22 miles

Width --12 miles

Shoreline --71 miles

Capacity --122,160,280 acre-ft. of water

Surface Area --193 sq miles

Depth --1645 feet Average depth 989 feet

Surface Temperatures Max --68 degrees F.

Where is Lake Tahoe ?
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