With visibilty near zero, skiers ride the chairlift at Mountain High Resort… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Los Angeles and San Francisco — How low will it go?
That was the question on the minds of people from Haight-Ashbury to Laurel Canyon on Friday as an unusually cold rainstorm moved into California, plunging snow levels to as low as 1,000 feet.
Forecasters said it's possible San Francisco would have its first dusting of snow in 35 years. And if the conditions are right, even the Hollywood sign could see some flakes.
Even with the cold conditions, it's unlikely that any snow in the Hollywood Hills or other low-elevation hillsides would stick to the ground, said Ryan Kittell, a forecaster at the National Weather Service.
"Snow isn't going to be piling up on the ground," he said. "If a strong shower or a thunderstorm forms over a foothill, they'll get some rain, and possibly a mix with a dusting of snow."
The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the San Bernardino Mountains, the Santa Ana Mountains and local foothills. A cold system will move southward along the coast late Friday and flow inland through Saturday night, the warning said.
Forecasts call for low temperatures in the 30s in many parts of Los Angeles County on Saturday. The unusual cold is the result of a low-pressure center that flows south from Alaska. The system typically stays north of Los Angeles, Kittell said, but this time will "track right over L.A."
"The rain is fairly common, but the cold air behind is something we see once every five or 10 years," Kittell said.
Snowfall is possible in areas of the Hollywood Hills, La Cañada-Flintridge and Santa Clarita. But it is likely to mix with rain and won't accumulate much on the ground, Kittell said. More intense conditions are forecast at higher elevations.
The last time snow stuck on San Francisco streets was Feb. 5, 1976. The prospect of white winter weather generated intense anticipation throughout the week.
With Friday's sunny skies came disappointment — and more than a little mockery.
Rich Sloan, manager of the Sports Basement store in the city's South of Market district, said he usually dresses down — in shorts. But the news reports prompted him to wear his "big-boy clothes" Friday: merino wool socks and a jacket. Then the sun shone. And shone.
"Our shovels aren't sold out yet," Sloan joked. "We are seeing nothing. It's all hype. "
The Twittersphere was also a-twitter with good-natured pokes.
"In San Francisco, still waiting, not for Godot, but snow," wrote Frederik L. Schodt on Friday afternoon, adding that the weather was beautiful, if getting steadily colder.
A website even sprang up with up-to-the-minute updates on the Bay Area's most pressing question. But throughout the day Friday, http://www.isitsnowinginsfyet.com/ offered the same one-word answer: "No."
As of Friday night, the chances of snow on Market Street were beginning to fade. But the city is not taking any chances.
The San Francisco Department of Public Works was mostly bracing for icy road conditions, preparing barricades and cones to close down roads — particularly the city's famously steep thoroughfares, said spokeswoman Gloria Chan. But the prospects for sledding down Lombard Street were remote, she conceded.
Snow showers were reported Friday afternoon in Santa Rosa, which has an elevation of only 150 feet. Duane Dykema, a forecaster in San Francisco, said it was hard to predict whether the showers would fall over the Bay Area, which is about 60 miles south.
"Right now the showers are very isolated," he said. "It's just a matter of whether or not it happens to drift over the city.... At this point it's hard to say."
Regardless of how low the snow level gets, officials expect road problems throughout the weekend.
"It's definitely going to be an interesting travel day tomorrow," Kittell said. "Areas that don't often deal with icy or snowy conditions will probably be dealing with that."
Robert Shuck, a California Highway Patrol officer at the Fort Tejon station, said officers were monitoring weather reports and preparing to escort drivers along the Grapevine on Friday and Saturday.
Dykema explained that the showers are "convective" in nature, meaning that they drag down cold air, allowing snow to fall. Because the surrounding air temperatures are warmer, he said, the snow doesn't accumulate once it hits the ground.