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Reno / Tahoe Weather

It Can Be Either Mild or Wild Out There


Reno Lake Tahoe Nevada wave clouds

Wave clouds over Reno

Photo © Stan White
You want weather, we've got weather. High desert and High Sierra overlap here, creating a climate where you will experience extremes. I've seen it go from sunny to snowy and back to sunny all in one day. It can rain like a monsoon or not rain at all for months. Summer days can top 100 degrees F and winter temperatures can dip below zero. This must be the place that inspired the old saying, "If you don't like the weather, stick around a while, it will change."

Weather Forecast & Warnings

We Live in a Rain Shadow

You will hear the term "rain shadow" mentioned often in Reno / Tahoe weather discussions. Reno, Sparks, and the whole east side of the Sierra Nevada (i.e., western Nevada) are in a rain shadow. When storms from the Pacific move onshore and encounter the Sierra, almost all of the water they are carrying condenses as rain or snow as the air rises up the mountains' western slopes. Relatively little moisture makes it over the top. This barrier is very effective, creating stark contrasts in precipitation and vegetation in areas separated by only a few miles. From where I live in Reno, I can look west and see the green, forested Sierra crest, or look east and see the brown, sage-covered slopes of the Carson Range. We live life in the transition zone between alpine peaks and Great Basin desert. For a more detailed discussion of rain shadows, visit the About.com Geography site by guide Matt Rosenberg.

What is Lake Effect?

When conditions align just right, winter storms moving over Lake Tahoe pick up additional moisture and energy, depositing it on our area as snow, and lots of it. This phenomenon is known as "lake effect." When it occurs, the rain shadow becomes a moot point. Since I've lived here, the prime example was the big '04 - '05 New Year's storm. Heavy snow fell for days, leaving several feet on Reno by the time it petered out. For a more detailed discussion of lake effect, visit the About.com Weather site.

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