Despite unseasonably cold temperatures and windy conditions, forecasters last week were a little surprised to see a storm system moving across Northern California so late in May, producing thunderstorms, rain and hail in most of the coastal regions and several inches of snow in the mountains.
But as warmer conditions develop, the unexpected storm has given Californians the opportunity to celebrate this holiday weekend on sand or snow — or both.
FOR THE RECORD:
Weekend weather: An article in Sunday's Section A about the Memorial Day weekend weather, in particular about snow allowing for extended ski seasons at California resorts, described Mammoth Mountain as a ski resort near Lake Tahoe. Mammoth and Tahoe are about 140 miles apart. —
"Snowboard on Saturday, surf on Sunday and barbecue on Monday," said Bill Patzert, a climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "It's the perfect Memorial weekend."
Apart from the local beaches, parks, lakes and hiking trails, hundreds are expected to make the trek to a handful of ski resorts that are open or have chosen to extend their ski season because of the snow levels.
"This is why a lot of us live in California," said Marie Montgomery, spokeswoman for the Automobile Club of Southern California. "You can go skiing, you can go surfing, it's all within a very close distance"
At Mammoth Mountain, a ski resort near Lake Tahoe, organizers said they were bringing the beach party to the snow. At the Big Memorial Weekend Party, amid the skiing and snowboarding, people will get to ride a mechanical bull, play volleyball on the snow and listen to live music.
"You can go skiing in a T-shirt and sweater," said Dan Hansen, spokesman for the resort. "It should be a fun weekend for all."
At Donner Ski Ranch west of Lake Tahoe, the motto is "open every weekend until the snow is gone." But owners Janet and Marshall Tuttle said they never anticipated staying open on Memorial Day weekend.
Then, Donner — one of the last family-owned and -operated ski resorts in California — received about 2 feet of fresh snow.
"We're very excited and very surprised," Janet Tuttle said. "We were open last weekend and we expected that to be our last weekend because the snow was so thin," she added. "This is a huge bonus."
Squaw Valley ski resort, 7 miles north of Tahoe City, is also among the handful of resorts left open for skiers and snowboarders.
In Southern California, though, there won't be skiing or snowboarding. Most of the local ski resorts have closed for the season, and none of the snowstorms that hit the resorts up north made their way down to the local mountains.
Forecasters say a set of special circumstances conspired to make the late-season skiing possible.
On Tuesday, a low-pressure system from the Pacific Northwest dipped down and moved across the state, producing hail, thunderstorms, rain and snow in Northern California's coastal and mountain regions.
"That's been unusual to have a storm like that develop this late and to get precipitation," said Michael Anderson, state climatologist with the California Department of Water Resources. "It happens, but not as much," he added. "The last time this happened was in 2006."
In Southern California, there were overcast skies and a light rain. Forecasters said the recent storm was needed for California's water supply. Cold conditions across the state have kept much of the snowpack from melting — a good thing, JPL's Patzert said.
"You definitely don't want a quick melt," Patzert said. "Every little snowdrop is precious in California."
A high-pressure system, producing clear skies and warm conditions, is expected to remain over the region until Tuesday, said Bonnie Bartling, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.
As a result, she said, temperatures are expected to range from the 70s at the beaches to the 90s in the valleys.
"When Mother Nature sets you up with conditions like this and you get a holiday weekend, it does seem like a good opportunity," Anderson said.