Thursday, December 6, 2007

Day 18 - Christmas Weather

On the 18th day of Christmas,
I want everybody to know
That it doesn't snow (much) in San Diego.

This is the first "Christmas Grab Bag" edition of the Advent Calendar, which I really appreciate!

Jasia asked several days ago "Did you ever see snow on Christmas" in a comment to my Day 24 post. The short answer is "Yes -- on television - on the weather report, the national news and the football games. Not outside our window ever."

Our weather in San Diego at sea level on Christmas Day is typically partly cloudy, with a high in the low 60's and a low in the high 40's. We have had sunny and warm (highs in the 80s) Christmas Days before, and have had rain all day on occasion. We don't usually have real cold (for us - temps in the 30s) weather in December - it usually happens in January. The record low temperature in San Diego is 25 F, which happened in 1923 - the water froze in the fountain at the downtown Plaza. The temperatures on the coast are always warmer than inland - if you go 10 miles inland, the low temps are always 5 to 10 degrees colder than the San Diego city temperature. The Laguna, Cuyamaca and Palomar Mountains to our east and north (all are over 6,000 feet high) get snow occasionally, even at Christmas time. The TV stations always show folks parked on the sides of the roads, sliding down hills and throwing snowballs. Every 5 years or so, we get a snow fall down to 2,000 feet elevation but rarely at sea level.

It has snowed several times in my lifetime in San Diego. At sea level. In January 1949 (I think), it snowed while I was walking to school (I was in kindergarten and it made a big impression on me). In December 1967, it snowed on my way to work. This time, the snow stuck for most of the day in the suburbs, and many San Diego kids (including the 25 year-old Randy) had a lot of fun. It snowed again in late December 1987 in San Diego, but we were on the way home from San Francisco and missed it. In every case, it snows at sea level early in the morning when a fast-moving cold front follows a clear and cold night.

In all the years that we went to San Francisco at Christmas time, it never snowed on us there, much to my disappointment. In 1987, it did snow on us at King City (south of Salinas) on Highway 101 and we stopped and had a wonderful snow ball fight. In 1985, we went to Yosemite after visiting San Francisco, and stayed several nights in that icy wonderland. We marveled at the frozen ponds, the waterfalls shedding ice, and had a glorious day sledding and snowballing at Glacier Point, a ski resort.

I have been in snow on occasion on trips to Portland in 1968, Boston in 1968, Cincinnati in the 1990's, and Topeka in 1987 and 1996. Each time, I am filled with wonder. Others (the natives) laugh at me - my lack of preparation (no hat, no gloves, no boots), my giddiness, my sliding on ice (unaware of the dangers). For me, snow is really special - a treat.

Our daughters live in areas that have snow occasionally, but we haven't been there when it has snowed. At least my grandchildren will have some memories of playing in the snow as children. We travel to their homes at Christmas time every other year - we might get lucky and really have a fun snow time with the little ones.

As a kid, I was very jealous that we did not have snow, at least on occasion, just so I could enjoy what other kids all over the country enjoyed. We didn't even have snow clothes, and still don't. We got Flexible Flyers (sleds with wheels) for Christmas, not snow sleds. When there was snow in the mountains, my folks never took us because of the crowds. I did go several times with the church youth group when I was 10 to 12 years old - it was cool! Wet. Cold. Fun.

We don't have snow tires, or own chains, or ice scrapers. We try to avoid driving where it is snowy and icy. We didn't take the kids to the snow when they were young because of our lack of proper equipment. The kids did go with their youth group several times, so they weren't totally deprived.

These days, I look forward to the absolutely clear days that follow a storm that dumps snow on the mountains. We can see Mount Cuyamaca (an Indian name, pronounced "kwee-ah-mack-ah") from all over San Diego County, and it occasionally has a snow mantle down to 4,000 feet. It is majestic and beautiful - I will try to get a picture the next time I have a chance.

Last Saturday, it was a cold, rainy and windy day up in Julian (temperature in the mid-30s with intermittent downpours and hail). Linda and I had our overcoats on and we bought gloves, and tried to find refuge in the little shops and stores along Main Street. We finally went to lunch at a restaurant with large windows facing the street. It was spitting snow while we ate. We hurried up to finish our meal and get out in it, and hoped to gather some up in our hands and laugh and throw it at each other. Alas, the moment passed, the little bits of frozen water melted quickly, and we were disappointed. But we saw snow fall, and it was a special moment - we will always remember it. Funny how that works, isn't it?

UPDATED 12/13: The San Diego Union-Tribune published an article today "The day it snowed in San Diego" describing December 13, 1967 - the day I remembered in my post above. There is also a list of other San Diego snow days - including January 11, 1949 and December 24, 1987. The article is at I don't know if it will be accessible for a long time. I saved it to my hard drive. The opening paragraphs:

“ 'This is something you tell to people who are from out of the area. They have a hard time believing it,' said Ken Ayers, a county native who was a dazzled 7-year-old on that wondrous day.

“ 'It's the California Christmas dream.'

"The dream came true 40 years ago this morning, when gale-force winds blew a Canadian cold front far, far off course. Across San Diego County, residents woke up to see the air shimmering with something cold, white and unfamiliar."



  1. The year I lived in NC it snowed one evening while I was at band practice. As soon as the first flake was spotted practice was over, the room emptied and the rest of the kids ran outside trying to catch snow on their tongues. I thought they were all nuts but I realize now that it was a rare treat for them, kinda like the thrill I still get at seeing palm trees.

  2. What a wonderful post, Randy! When the sun comes up this morning I'll look outside at the dusting of snow we have and think of you.

    Having always lived in Michigan, I'm used to snow. But we don't always have a "white Christmas" here either. According to the Weather Channel maps, our area (southeast Michigan) has a white Christmas about 25% of the time.

    I'm not much of a winter weather person and the only time I enjoy snow is on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, well, and maybe a few days between Thanksgiving and Christmas to get me in the mood for Christmas shopping. After that, I'd just as soon not see any more snow until the next holiday season.

    New fallen snow is beautiful and I sure appreciated getting "snow days" off from school as a kid. But the snow doesn't stay pretty for long before it becomes dirty and icy. There's not much to appreciate about it then.