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Tahoe Nugget #49:

Snowstorms in San Francisco

A relatively rare Winter Storm Watch has been posted for tonight and Saturday at elevations above 1,500 feet in the hills around San Francisco and the Bay Area. Today about 2 inches of snow fell on the 2,571-foot peak of Mount Tamalpais just north of San Francisco, but a colder and wetter storm tomorrow (Feb. 18) may bring more snow to the Bay Area with up to 6 inches possible above 3,000 feet. In the Sierra Nevada, a Winter Storm Watch is usually posted for winter storms that are expected to dump from 1 to 2 feet of snow, or more, but because snowfall is unusual at the lower elevations of coastal California, any potential for significant snow, sleet, or ice accumulations that may impact travel warrant a WSW.

Accumulating snow on Bay Area mountain tops occurs every so often, but measurable snowfall of any amount in downtown San Francisco (at sea level) is a very rare event indeed. In fact, snowfalls of 1 inch or more have occurred only 7 times in the last 160 years — the last was a one-inch dusting in 1976.

Nearly half of the San Francisco snow events were recorded during the 1880s, a decade when cold winter weather plagued much of the United States. Northern California was no exception. San Francisco's all-time record snowfall occurred on February 5, 1887, when 3.7 inches were measured in the downtown financial district. At higher elevations in the city, the snow reached 7 inches deep. These accumulations might be considered minimal by folks who experience blizzards or nor-easters, but the San Francisco Chronicle devoted much of its editorial to accounts of the historic storm.

Today, most scientists take global warming and climate change very seriously. After San Francisco's first recorded snowstorm dumped nearly 3 inches on Christmas Day in 1856, an Alta California editor presciently noted: "Are the seasons changing with the innovations which the Anglo Saxen race has made in California? We shall begin to think so if we continue having snow storms in winter and rains in July." Snowfall is now so rare in San Francisco, that the National Weather Service no longer officially measures it.

Photo #1: 1882 San Francisco snowstorm
Photo #2: View of San Francisco through the Golden Gate

1882 S.F. snowstorm website resized02

Nugget #49 B Golden Gate bridge S.F. ID 800

 

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