All the rain inundating Southern California this winter, it’s become routine, tiresome. And in the entertainment capital of the world, not for long will people tolerate boring.
So how about an afternoon with hail, sleet, graupel and even — whoa — snow?
An extremely cold storm system plunging out of the frigid north into the Southland on Thursday brought all of that precipitation — plus, sure, more rain. With snow levels briefly dropping to 1,000 feet and lower, there were reports of flakes falling in West Hollywood, Pasadena, Thousand Oaks, atop the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking Malibu, and in the passes separating the metro Los Angeles area from the Central Valley and High Desert.
The snow did not make it into the Los Angeles basin and downtown, where flakes were last seen in 1962.
The precipitation was so varied, the National Weather Service’s office in Oxnard gave an impromptu lesson in just what was coming down.
And after the storms departed, the cold air stuck around.
This was just the latest round of precipitation in what’s been a remarkably wet winter across California. According to the Weather Service, in the month of February, downtown Los Angeles has taken in more than 5½ inches of rainfall, close to double the average. The total for February 2018? [Dean Wormer voice] Zero-point-zero-three inches. [/Dean Wormer voice]
The story is the same to the north. Starting in earnest on Super Bowl weekend, California’s mountain resorts have seen foot upon foot of snow falling on their slopes. It’s also snarled traffic on the highways through the Sierra Nevada range, making for ugly scenes in normally placid towns.
The California Department of Water Resources said when Thursday dawned, snowpack in the Sierras was 44 percent above its average for the date and 17 percent greater than the average at the beginning of April.
But, unlike this most recent event, feeding that snowfall were atmospheric rivers (AR) composed of relatively warmer subtropical moisture. Just a week ago, a Category 4 (“extreme”) AR — a classic “Pineapple Express,” tapping a Kona low off Hawaii — brought record-busting rainfall to Southern California. (By the way, models are predicting another AR landfall by early next week, with the North Coast as the forecast destination.)
Thursday’s snow in Southern California was made possible by a markedly strong low-pressure system (the Weather Service predicted thicknesses would bottom out around 526dm) that started cold over western Canada and stayed cold as it made its way down the continent before entering the Golden State from the northeast.
But because of the overland path, the system didn’t have much moisture to work with, and few Southland rain gauges exceeded one-tenth of an inch.
Looking ahead, the forecast for Southern California called for calmer weather through the weekend. Yet it is still expected to be cold; downtown Los Angeles hasn’t had a day of above-average temperatures since Jan. 30.