Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Travel: Going to California for Snow


A snow globe was unexpectedly surrounded by real snow in Diamond Springs, California--elevation just 1800 feet--on 8-December-2009

PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA - People in Toronto, Ontario were quite surprised not to see any snow the entire month of November, as this was the first time since the current weather stations opened more than 75 years ago that this had never happened. Furthermore, the trend continued in December--while there were flurries noted in the air as I left town yesterday, there still had been no accumulation on the ground in the entire first week of December.

Normally, one comes to the state of California to get away from snowy weather and head for sun and warmth. While locales like San Diego (or anywhere in the Southland) would be safer bets within the state for warm and dry conditions, my destination of El Dorado County in the Sierra foothills should have also been a safe bet. Placerville rarely sees any snow, period, and hadn't seen any real accumulation since 1972.

That changed this week. A storm started before dawn on Monday, dumping about seven inches of snow in the immediate vicinity of Placerville. This was the largest accumulation of snowfall in the area since 1923. Driving from Sacramento, I was surprised to find the snow level on US 50 at about El Dorado Hills at about 1000 feet in elevation, and conditions unsurprisingly became more wintry as I continued east and higher to Placerville at about elevation 2000 feet.

Today, I had a chance to walk around an area of Diamond Springs west of Placerville and found winter scenes that I had certainly seen before--in Ontario, Massachusetts, or the High Sierra in California, not the relative lowlands. Sacramento media reported on shelters for the displaced and homeless to avoid freezing and on power outages as if they were from Seattle, Washington or Minneapolis, Minnesota. It all sounded familiar--there's no brain surgery involved in the opening of a shelter or in reminding drivers how to drive in the snow--it just doesn't seem to belong here.

The peculiar local angle on the snow accumulation comes from the citrus growers at lower elevations. Mandarin orange farmers in Penryn, California have received a lot of attention as temperatures dipped to 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold--close to freezing--is actually good for the species, causing a higher sugar content in the fruit, but actual freezing leads to the entire crop being lost. With one last night of freezing temperatures expected tonight, it will not be known if more than $2 million in crops have survived until tomorrow.

That's what I get for heading to California--the very weather I normally would have been experiencing, but haven't been, at home.

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