Xavier Bias walked out of the Whole Foods Market in Pasadena and saw another woman looking to the ground puzzled at the white stuff covering the sidewalk.
The woman wasn’t sure exactly what she was looking at. But Bias, who is originally from the East Coast, quickly set her straight.
It was snow.
“People didn’t know what it was,” Bias said. “I was like, no, this is snow.”
It was that kind of day in some parts of Southern California, where snow dropped at extremely low elevation levels, creating a winter wonderland for a short while. Snow fell in Malibu, Pasadena, West Hollywood, Northridge, San Bernardino, Thousand Oaks and other unexpected places.
Snow level hit the 1,000-foot mark, bringing tiny bits of the white stuff into neighborhoods that had not seen snow in decades. But the show was fleeting, lasting in most cases a few minutes before the sun melted anything that had hit the ground.
By Thursday evening, the storms were moving east, with officials saying the snow elevation level had dropped to 800 feet in Orange County. Snow plows were clearing Ortega Highway between Lake Elsinore and San Juan Capistrano.
An unusually chilly storm system that originated in Alberta, Canada, was lingering over Nevada and had already blanketed Las Vegas with snow early Thursday. Before daybreak, snow was falling in parts of the Southland, dusting Palmdale and the Lucerne Valley. By the early afternoon, it was snowing across Southern California and winter weather had forced the closure of the 5 Freeway through the Grapevine.
“This is probably the coldest storm system I’ve seen in my time in California,” said David Sweet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. “We’ve had cold mornings and freeze conditions, but I don’t remember seeing anything quite this cold.”
Forecasters predict that up to 6 inches of powder could fall in the eastern San Gabriel Mountains. Sweet said snow could fall in the Santa Monica Mountains and even some sections of the Hollywood Hills.
By around noon, the predictions were proving to be true.
“We’re seeing a little bit of everything out there,” said Eric Boldt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
After seeing the confusion on social media and as residents began calling in to the weather service, Boldt took it upon himself to clear things up.
“Correct, that is snow! Lots of confusion today,” he posted on the National Weather Service’s Twitter account.
He explained that if the precipitation bounces off the ground, then it contains ice, which would make it hail or sleet. If it floats, it’s snow. In many areas, residents reported seeing small slushy balls, which Boldt said is graupel, snowflakes slightly melted and bunched together.
The last time it snowed in downtown Los Angeles was in January 1962, according to Los Angeles Public Library archives. During that storm, heavy snow fell in the mountains and high deserts and dusted parts of downtown and West Los Angeles. Most of the city snow, however, melted quickly.
Snow has dusted portions of Los Angeles County over the years, most recently in 2007, according to newspaper archives.
Palmdale received a fresh dusting of powder overnight from the latest storm. Residents brushed the accumulation off their windshields before leaving for work early Thursday.
Falling snow levels prompted Bear Valley, Morongo, Snowline and Rim of the World school districts in San Bernardino County to close schools Thursday for a rare snow day.
“It’s going to be a fairly unusual day,” Sweet said, “to say the least.”
With the snow also comes the potential for significant road closures and travel delays. The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory warning of hail and snow in the mountains and interior valleys through the evening. Forecasters warned that the 5 Freeway through the Grapevine and Highway 14 from Santa Clarita to the Antelope Valley could see significant delays.
The 5 is likely to be the biggest concern because of the combination of strong northwest winds pushing moisture up the north-facing slopes of nearby mountains and cold temperatures. Motorists could see 3 to 6 inches of snow accumulation at the pass, according to the weather service. Around noon, the California Highway Patrol announced the Grapevine was closed in both directions because of snow. Highway 74 between Palm Desert’s southern boundary and Highway 371 near Anza also remained closed because of snowfall, according to Caltrans.
Southern California residents took to social media to express their delight and awe over the rare snowfall. One user reported a “snow-like substance” falling in Agoura. Even Jerry O’Connell of “Stand By Me” piped in.
“Calabasas, California, where the Kardashians live,” he said in a video on Twitter, pointing at specks of snow on a car. “It’s snowing right now. Look at this. Snow. Snow. Not hail. Snow.”
Patricia Lewis of Rancho Cucamonga was working in a kitchen when her co-worker told her she should take a look outside. Customers had started leaving the restaurant and pointed their phones toward the sky. Lewis didn’t want to miss out.
“It was confusion at first. I thought, this is nothing big, but then I actually saw the white specks and thought, ‘Hail doesn’t do that.’ You could see it floating gently,” she said. “[I thought] I need to put this on my [Instagram] story and tell my friends about this.”
The snow kept falling on her way home from work and then suddenly stopped.
The storm is expected to move out of the region overnight, but the chilly weather that has Angelenos bundling up will linger a bit longer. Overnight lows will drop into the high 20s in some areas, but the Southland will see some gradual warming beginning Friday and continuing through next week.
This week’s cold snap has dropped temperatures low enough to break at least one record. The Santa Barbara Airport recorded a low of 33 degrees Tuesday, edging out the previous record of 34 degrees set in 1990, Sweet said.
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