Wintry scenes abound across the Bay Area; Cold front triggers rare snow flurries

SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS — It was a snow day early Thursday morning in the Santa Cruz Mountains as overnight flurries left behind a once in a decade winter scene.

Children played, making snowmen and snowballs, while drivers battled dangerous black ice as they were escorted by the California Highway Patrol over the summit on Highway 17. 

Crews also closed lots of roads in and around the Foothills Nature Preserve in Palo Alto as they used snow plows to make sure conditions were safe to drive. 

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For the first time in 12 years, the National Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory for a wide swath of region spanning the next 48 hours.

“A significant winter storm will impact the Bay Area and Central Coast through Friday with cold temperatures, gusty winds, widespread rain showers, low elevation snow and the potential for thunderstorms,” forecasters warned.

The first thrust of the storm arrived overnight, but a second stronger pulse of frigid temperatures and flurries will arrive late Thursday.

“The second, more impactful one (storm) will arrive for Thursday and Friday,” the weather service warned.

According to the National Weather Service Bay Area office, overage temperatures Thursday varied from 7°F to 14°F below normal temps for late February. It marked the first time since January 6, 2017, that San Francisco downtown had a low 39°F or colder. Santa Rosa’s low temperature was 28°F, tying the previous record low on this day set last year and matched in 1955 and 1911.

Dangerous driving conditions earlier Thursday along Highway 35 near Page Mill Road. The road was closed for a time because of car slipouts.

That could happen once again as more snow moves in late Thursday into Friday.

Snow storm: Raw video of wintry conditions at Mt. Hamilton


Many Santa Cruz Mountain residents said they don’t plan on leaving the area until the storms are over.

“If it’s going to be a snow day, I usually stay home because it’s usually only one day,” said longtime Redwood Estates resident Judy Anslinger.

“The power was out once last night for about and hour and the internet is out even now, so we’re just going to hunker down. That’s it, you know,” said James Hill, who has lived in Redwood Estates for 53 years.

Longtime Redwood Estates resident Bill Rose woke up to the stunning snowfall Thursday morning.  

“It’s always pretty, just so quiet with the snow coming down,” Rose said. “This is the first snow that we’ve had in the last five years. But in years past, we’ve had even more snow than this time.”

He’s prepared for the possible power outages that come with extreme weather with a generator on hand. 

“It went out the day before yesterday about 6:30 p.m.,” he said. “We’re just sitting down to eat dinner and it got dark and we had to go dig out flashlights.”

He said the power came on 36 hours later. He used five gallons of gas to keep him home in order.

The conditions in the Santa Cruz Mountains have already brought more people to the town store to stock up on supplies

“Ice, beer and firewood too,” said Mirian Chi, who runs the Redwood Estates Store.  

The store is the go-to spot in town for all sorts of supplies. It is fully stocked with popular items and essentials, especially when residents are out of power. 

Chi said her family has owned this store for 30 years. She sees an uptick in customers when the power goes out for longer stretches of time. 

“There’s been times when power’s out for a couple weeks up here, it happens frequently, so when that happens people don’t want to go to town,” she said. 

“I live up on the other side of the hill, I’m in Lexington hills and we lost power six hours, but we have a generator, so we’re prepared,” said employee Marc Russo.  

Longtime resident Mona, who declined to give her last name, said she is experienced in dealing with weather-related power outages. 

“We were told it wasn’t going to come back until tonight at 10 pm, it came back on last night at 6:30, hallelujah,” she said. “We have generators, we have water, we have food. we have supplies.”

But she’s thinking of other people who might not have access to the same. 

“There’s a lot of people up here that need the power. My neighbor had to go downtown because she’s on medical,” she said. 

The blast of frigid air accompanying the storm allowed the snow to accumulate on the ground.

“Snow levels have fallen to around 1,500 feet with accumulating snowfall occurring at around 2,000 feet based off of reports on social media as well as the region’s network of webcams,” the weather service said.

“While snowfall accumulations remain difficult to pin-point given our complex terrain, the highest peaks and ridges have a 60-80% probability of exceeding 8 inches and a 40-60% of picking up more than 12 inches, especially in the Santa Lucia and southern Diablo ranges.”  

The chilly precipitation wasn’t isolated to the South Bay.

A mixture of hail and graupel — slushy snow pellets — pelted Vallejo around noon and more hail was reported in Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park around 1:30 p.m. The Sonoma County coastal mountains are experiencing a peppering of snow as well.  

Solano County has rain forecast for the afternoon and evening, with a possibility of isolated thunderstorms, according to Courtney Carpenter, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.  

“Because such cold air is present, any heavier snow or thunderstorm that pops up will have the potential to drop accumulating small hail or graupel,” Carpenter said.  

In Sonoma County, temperatures will reach freezing or below by Friday morning, according to Brian Garcia, another meteorologist with the weather service. A freeze warning is in effect from noon Thursday to 9 a.m. Friday. The Sonoma Coastal Range mountains will pick up “a couple inches likely” of snow, according to Garcia.  

A winter storm warning is in effect for mountains in Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties.   

The Mayacamas and Vaca Mountain ranges that span both Napa and Solano counties could see accumulated snow of up to 8 inches. 

“There is an outside shot, less than about 10 percent, that the highest elevations pick up a foot or more of snow,” said Garcia.  

“One of the strongest thunderstorms overnight may cause a few snowflakes to get pushed down to sea level,” he added, saying that there is a 10 percent chance that snow could mix with rain in lower elevations. 

Meanwhile across the Bay in the Berkeley Hills residents were preparing for flurries later Thursday. It’s been more than a decade since snow has dusted the hills.

“I’ve lived in the Bay Area for 18 years and there’s only one other time that there was any sort of snow in the Bay,” said Michelle Green.  

Some forecasts are predicting a few inches of snow in the Grizzly Peak area in the next couple of days. How much of it sticks will depend on the ground temperature. 

In the Sierra, the storm triggered intermittent blizzard conditions and shut down I-80 in both directions by Thursday afternoon.

A blizzard warning was in effect through Saturday for higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada, where forecasters said conditions could include several feet of snow blown by 60-mph gusts and wind chill could drop the temperature to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  

Betty Yu contributed to this story.

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