San Jose Mercury News

Lake Tahoe is "the fairest picture the whole earth affords," Mark Twain once wrote. Its crystal blue waters, surrounded by stunning snowy mountains, define one of California's crown jewels as an American landmark. It attracts 3 million skiers, boaters, campers, hikers and other visitors each year.

But it could look very different in 100 years.

Climate change could profoundly affect the Tahoe area, scientists say, taking the snow out of the mountains and the blue out of the water.

Last winter's ski season showed a glimpse of what a future, warmer Tahoe may look like. Snow didn't start falling in the mountains until January. The California Ski Industry Association reported that 25 percent fewer skiers visited the Sierra last season. For a region that boasts a $5 billion year-round economy, that hurts.

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