The Saddleback Mountains got a dash of snow and Orange County got a dose of the shivers Thursday as the Big Chill continued, with daytime temperatures hovering in the low 40s and 50s, winds whipping up to 30 m.p.h. and the worst of the cold predicted for this morning.
Despite forecasts to the contrary, there were only scattered showers Thursday and mostly Easter-egg-blue skies, with no more than a quarter of an inch of rainfall reported anywhere in Orange County, meteorologists said.
But the prediction was still on of a freeze this morning, when temperatures were forecast to drop to 32 or lower in some coastal and mountain areas, according to Marty Trexler, a meteorologist for WeatherData, which provides The Times with forecasts.
"The worst of it will be over by Saturday," Trexler said.
The county's $132-million nursery industry buckled down for the brunt of this winter's first cold front with wind machines and other anti-frost equipment at the ready.
"It hasn't got below 35, but (Thursday night) we're expecting it to get down to about 28 degrees," said Alan Reynolds, orchard manager of Treasure Farms, the county's largest farming concern with 6,000 acres in Irvine. "We're as ready as we can be, and they're expecting a couple degrees cooler (tonight). So we'll just have to wait and see."
For the second consecutive night the county's two National Guard Armories in Fullerton and Santa Ana were open to the homeless, with room for 250 people. The armories, like the county's private and public shelters--offering 500 to 600 beds--were filled to capacity, and streams of homeless were turned away.
"That's the really hard part," lamented John Lands, director of the Orange County Rescue Mission, which offers hot meals and beds to men and women at two facilities. "We've been full for the last three nights, so the cold weather has made a difference."
Lands said the shelter gave away 219,000 pieces of clothing this year and is in need of donations of cold weather garments and blankets that it gives away to the needy twice weekly.
Also for the second night in a row, the Newport Harbor Christmas Boat Parade was canceled because of high winds.
Forecasters still predicted the possibility early today for some snow showers--they drift down as snow, land as water--in foothill areas and other areas that might see rainfall.
But the Canadian storm front that drummed into Southern California on Wednesday should pass through the region by Saturday, when things will warm up, forecasters said.
It is after the center of the storm passes that the coldest air follows, Trexler of WeatherData said. That will strike "Friday night through Saturday morning," he said Thursday.
Winds blowing out of the northwest with 30 m.p.h. gusts Thursday were expected to fade overnight as temperatures were forecast to plummet to the upper 20s and low 30s, Trexler said.
Highs today were expected to be in the upper 40s to mid-50s. A slow warming will begin Saturday afternoon through Sunday. Highs Saturday will be in the mid- to upper 50s, and in the 60s Sunday. Lows Saturday and Sunday will remain in the mid-30s to low 40s.
Atop 5,687-foot Santiago Peak at the edge of the Cleveland National Forest in the Saddleback Mountains, snow looked like powdered sugar sprinkled across Orange County's highest spot, where there was just enough of the white stuff to be seen for miles Thursday.
But 2 to 4 inches of snow fell in the San Gabriel, San Bernardino and Tehachapi mountains, said WeatherData meteorologist Marty McKewon.
"There were blizzard conditions in the Tehachapi Mountains, and there was zero visibility at times," McKewon said.
Warnings were issued to motorists, but the highway--a major route to the San Joaquin Valley-- was not closed, officials said.
Heavy snow also fell in the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada on Thursday, although the snowfall did not near the 15 inches that accumulated on some peaks in the area last week, WeatherData forecaster Steve Burback said.
"Most of the activity is in the Sierra Nevada," Burback said. "The temperatures in the mountain ranges will be in the teens."
The storm was a boon for ski resorts, which had sorely needed a decent snowfall.
"We got about a foot of new snow," said Pam Murphy, a spokeswoman for Mammoth Mountain ski resort. "We are running four ski lifts now. Friday we will run 10 lifts. We will run 13 for the weekend."
Most resorts in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains expected to be in operation by the weekend.
Times staff writer Darrell Dawsey contributed to this report.