Late, low, May snow in California

From the “weather is not climate” department, I’m getting reports this morning of snow down to 2500 feet in Forest Ranch, CA a few miles from where I live. This is not surprising, give the cold storm coming through at the moment. The lateness of the storm and the low snow levels may surprise some people.

It is quite cold in the Sierra right now, with higher elevations having temps in the high teens and twenties, even at 11AM. Here is a screencap of this MESONET interactive map:

I recall in 1993, after Pinatubo, how we had snow in the Sierra in the first week of June.

Dr. John Christy wrote yesterday of the southern Sierra Nevada forecast discussion which he thought was unusual:


I was born and raised in Fresno County in 1950s- early 1970s where I developed my climate passion (well before global warming issues).  You don’t see winter storm warnings for the Southern Sierras in mid-May too often.  It’s not like they haven’t had enough snow this season.

John C.


FXUS66 KHNX 142145



245 PM PDT SAT MAY 14 2011











Looks like more is headed our way:

Click image to animate with the current imagery

69 thoughts on “Late, low, May snow in California

  1. Hi Anthony,
    We live in Cohasset at 3200′. Woke up to light snow and we have gotten between 3 and 4 inches and it is still falling!!!

  2. After a rather mild winter we are getting a cold spring here in central Greece. As if the weather has shifted a month. Swallows arrived only last week, instead of end March/beginning of April. We needed central heating until last week too, a first. Usually it is off by 1st of April.

  3. You don’t often see cold storms this late into Spring in N. Calif. either.
    You don’t expect Winter Storm Warnings as well.
    Funny, but something that was touted to be a ‘thing of the past’ is now an event today.
    This does not worry me, I know it is rather benign, though rather chilly.
    What bothers me is the setup if another May, 1955 were to occur.

  4. It was snowing very lightly this morning, about 11:20am, outside my window in Reno. I’m at about 4900′ in N.W. Seems like it’s snowed a little each week since spring started.
    Hearing John is from the Fresno area, it brought back some fond memories as a kid spending time up the mountain on that side of the Sierra. He was just a short drive to the Big Trees. We had a cabin just off of 180 in Pinehurst, and I’m sure John stopped in Wilsonia too while enjoying the park. It was the last privately owned land inside a national park.

  5. A heavy hail cell passed over Palo Alto at about 10 am this morning. The hail was split-pea-sized, and came down hard and thick when the center came through.
    It’s presently showery, and at 45 F within 3 F of the historic low for today. According to Weather Underground, Palo Alto has no historical record of rain in May.
    [ryanmaue: here in Monterey CA, it was heavy graupel and rimed ice chunks — just like a Coke fountain ice dispenser — very cold too for a daytime high, 55F]

  6. Reno. 12:20pm. It’s snowing. The sun’s out, and it’s snowing.
    May 15, 2011. It’s worse than we thought.

  7. I heard some squeaks last evening so I am assuming I have bats returning. Which is WAAAAYYYYY late. Infant mortality rate will be high again this fall when they leave. We also have bare trees yet. And snow is coming to the Wallowa valley floor early this week.

  8. We have moved to Texas but still keep our place in the Sierra foothills, 1600 ft. It was sleeting a few minutes ago. When we got back here last week we found two big trees down from a storm the week before. The irony of it was that the big oak tree came down inches away from our residence. The only damage, however, was the blade on a hockey stick I had in front yard was broken off.

  9. 12:45pm Weaverville, Ca.
    Rain, 43F, cold air descending, a perfectly miserable May 15th.
    People everywhere are grumbing, demanding to know when Summer will arrive.
    Early season campers have arrived, packed up and gone home.
    Fishing is lousy with streams and rivers too high & swift.
    Rafters and Whitewater outfits sit idle.
    Summer Lodges and Lake Resorts are nervous.

  10. Am glad you posted this. I have been watching the west cool down for several years. Many more days of good skiing (on all that white global warming stuff). For those who fall for the last 30 year warming as being something of a great turn in climate, keep in mind who is choosing the data and where the data is derived. The trees I cut for fire wood do not show any “healthier tree climate” for the past ten years. That relates to temperature (what drives the chemistry speed for plants) that has fallen combined with no lack of water.
    I have also noticed some high mountain roads being impassable later in the year with record snow depths. The mammoth snowpack that has delighted skiers and challenged cross-state travelers over the past months is contributing to the latest opening of the North Cascades Highway since the 1970s, with workers clearing snow up to 65 feet deep.
    Mckenzie Pass in Oregon still has snow drifts 30 feet deep. In recent memory, the snow has never been that high” at a location near the summit known as “the cut,” where the snow piles up the deepest, says Peter Murphy of ODOT.
    The examples are plenty. Good deals on cross country skis and snow shoes. Invest for the future… 🙂

  11. Ryan N. Maue says:
    May 15, 2011 at 12:40 pm
    I keep noticing the JJA forecast for Pacific NW keeps getting cooler & wetter with each passing month. Do you see any tangible signs of a June turnaround in the works?

  12. I’m sure we’ll see stories about climate change causing the excessive snow (and that their models predicted it [not]). Then we’ll see stories about the excessive snow harming the ski industry because of avalanche dangers, lifts being buried, roads impassable… (fill in the blanks). Then we’ll see horror stories about excessive run off causing flooding, erosion, crop destruction…
    You’re already seeing it in the Louisiana flooding (can anyone say levees? Let’s channel the river and then be surprised when it creates massive floods down river).

  13. Colorado just got another foot of snow in the mountains and up to 6 inches in the Denver metro area. Some of the ski areas will be open weekends until the 4th of July, A Basin reports still having a 94 inch base. Some people have been skiing anyway, despite the lifts being shut down.
    As for the Denver area, it was nice to get some consistent rain after the dry and windy La Nina winter and spring. We got our average amount of rain for the month of May in just 2 days and we’re greening up nicely.
    The best thing is that with all of the snow in the mountains, we won’t have any kind of water shortage this summer.

  14. That snow delayed the start of the “Tour of California” bike race
    3 minute news report from today, 5/15/11

  15. From Marina del Rey in Southern California, part of Los Angeles. Clear and cool with brisk wind from the cold front that is sweeping the state. About 7 degrees F (4 deg C) cooler maximum temperature here today compared to the historic norm of 74 degrees F. We had a small scattering of rain here early this morning.
    Mammoth Mountain ski resort in the Southern Sierras got 4 to 8 inches of fresh snow overnight. Their website states they will be open through July 4th this year.
    Also, northern Michigan is forecast to have a hard freeze tonight. Not the Upper Peninsula, but the main section. I’m sure the farmers are thrilled.

  16. I live in the same county as rbateman, and just put more wood on the fire. So glad I stocked in a good supply last fall. I didn’t expect to still be needing a fire in the stove this late in the spring. However, I have many decades of rainfall records from living in Portola Valley, toward the foothills from Palo Alto, and differ with weather underground. Just a quick look at my records show significant rainfall in May 1990, from May 20 to 31 about an inch and a half over that period. Also in 1995 we had almost 2″ between May 1st and June 16th.

  17. In Shanghai this winter, we had more snow than anyone can remember – some who have lived in Shanghai for 80+ years. And we’re just now reaching the point where I need to turn on the air conditioning. Usually it’s been in use for a month by now, but this year has been freakishly cold.
    Also, rain has been lower as well, it seems – we do get the occasional squall, but the spring rains never really materialized…

  18. Woke up this morning to what looked like about an .5 inch of snow at 2400′ in Grass Valley, Ca.

  19. The trough out West will be to my benefit here in the Minneapolis area this week as the omega-like block sets up. Gradually warming through the 70s to near 80F by next weekend after our last run at frost in the outlying areas tonight. Metro area should only reach about 40F though. Trees leafed out about 1 week later than average but last year we saw them leaf out in early to mid April which was about 2-3 weeks earlier than average….you take the two years and divide by two and we’re running perfectly average over the past 2yrs as far as greenup goes! Sunny, breezy fresh 64F here right now…sorry CA but we usually benefit here when the trof is out West.

  20. Tall plumes of smoke noted in northern Alberta on vis satellite right now….big forest fires beneath the blocking, dry upper high.

  21. It’s still near 50 degrees and partial sunshine here on the Eastern side of the Sierra in the Carson Valley area. Fortunately we know better than to acknowledge spring until after “Carson Valley Days” which is always celebrated on the 2nd weekend of June. After that date you’re probably ok to take your tomato plants outside without too much fear of a killing frost.
    A large dark cell is now sliding down off the top of Job’s Peak and I suspect by morning I’ll need to get my chainsaw out to remove all the damaged limbs from the leafed out trees that will succumb to an excessive snow load. Not all that unusual for a northern Nevada “Sprinter”!

  22. Shanghi, we had 86.6″ of snow in Minneapolis/St.Paul this season….3rd snowiest on record with two brutal blizzards plus one of the longest stretches of consistent snow cover (1″ or more on ground) in history.

  23. In Los Angeles, we caught the southern end of this front with brief but intense rainfall this morning, the latest rain I can remember in my25 years here. Now we are having one of those beautiful post-frontal days here, the kind you see on picture post cards of the city, as we typically get in February.

  24. It’s almost summer! But I forgot that a warmer climate means more snow. I also forgot that a warmer climate means less snow.

    IPCC – North America – Climate Change 2001:
    Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
    “Milder winter temperatures will decrease heavy snowstorms but could cause an increase in freezing rain if average daily temperatures fluctuate about the freezing point.”

    How was the snow in the last 3 winters?
    From failure to failure. When are these idiots going to give up?
    The theory of Warmcold says:
    Winters maybe warmer
    Winters maybe colder

  25. Are you on facebook at all? I enjoy your blog and comments so much that I would love to see you in my news reel making comments. Let me know. Thanks! I think you would have a ton of fan following. 🙂

  26. There’s been local talk of some Colorado Ski areas re-opening for Memorial Day. The snow pack in many places is 150 percent of normal. It’s rainy here today in Colorado Springs with snow this past week on the higher elevations around town and more rain/snow predicted for midweek. My furnace has been coming on and off all day.
    Ugh! I’m ready for some global warming here.

  27. A-basin rarely closes until the end of May anyway, and they certainly are not closed yet. The “weekend” thing is for after their expected close date. People are still skiing it because it is still open…
    We keep getting crapped on in Colorado. It just won’t quit. Not enough snow to do anything fun in, just a mess and too cold to to get out unless you’re skiing. I want to CAMP! 🙁

  28. Oh, and I should note that it is very hard for resorts to open after their official close date. They (apparently) purchase insurance at the beginning of the year with an expected close date. They send everyone home after they’re done, and the insurance has run its course, making reopening difficult. If Breckenridge had known that it would be tipping the charts with 519″ and more snow on the way the day they closed, I’d be willing to be they would have bought more time.

  29. The leaves are just starting to come out here in Minneapolis. They are two weeks late when compared to the last 20 years.
    Keep Smiling 🙂

  30. RE: “weather is not climate”
    … except when the AGW believers use it as “proof” of Man Made Global Warming. 😉

  31. I really wish we could get a piece of that action here in the east. Back in the 80s, I clearly remember the mountains of NC (Boone/Blowing Rock area) occasionally getting snow in May, and the very rare freak flurry in June. The Christmas trees love it, the corn not so much.

  32. Mark, when I lived in Colorado winter camping was the way to go. That was in the cold early 1970’s. No crowds, no anything but nice dry cold sunny conditions. Hot chocolate and bacon is all you need to live on. Find a dry bluff that gets sun all day and enjoy the isolation, the quiet, the lack of Honda generators and no boom boxes. … no whining. 🙂

  33. Oh so slowly the climate changes with the lack of sunspot activity. Topography begins to turn from north to south. The question is, “Will it be gradual or will it accellerate?

  34. New England hasn’t been extremely cool – yet.
    Here in New Hampshire we generally have had a few 80+ days by now.
    Let’s see, from my records:

    Year  80+ days   High temp to date  90+ days in whole year
    2011         1                80.9                      NA
    2010         4                86.5                      22
    2009         3                92.1                       6
    2008         2                84.1                       8
    2007         4                89.7                      10
    2006         0                79.6                       8
    2005         2                85.5                      11
    2004         7                89.9                       2

    I don’t like hot weather, so I’m not complaining. A lot of other
    people are.

  35. We live in Southwest Washington, and we are a month behind in planting. Early start peas died off due to frost (we had frost just a few days ago) and we are still building fires morning and evening in our wood stove. Normally we might build one fire a week or two in May (our home is VERY well insulated).
    These last couple years remind me of what the weather used to be like 30 years ago when I was 10.
    But…gotta remember, weather isn’t climate! Oh wait, no this just proves man-caused climate change…no..warming….ummm….(checking latest buzzword listing…)…DISRUPTION! Thats it! Man-caused global climate disruption.

  36. I’m in the middle of Calaveras County at 2500′. It was 32 F this morning with 1/4″ of snow on the roof. A friend 5 miles north of here at 2800′ reported 3″ of snow. Another friend in Arnold reported nearly a foot of snow at 4100′. The high at my home was just 48 F.

  37. Hey Pamela, would you trade some bats for some flying squirrels? No bats here yet, in the cold rain forests around Dogpatch. Bet they’ve had a time keeping dry in their caves.

  38. Record low Maximums today:
    Redding, CA 50F, previous low Max -56 – 1908
    Red Bluff, CA 56F, previous low Max – 56 – 1925
    Sacramento, CA 53F, previous low Max – 58 – 1925
    Weaverville, CA 46F, previous low Max – 52 – 1917

  39. In Reno, Nv at 4500ft, Ive watched and obsessed over winter snowfall amounts and looking at a century’s worth of data I can certainly notice that winter snowfall amounts at this particular elevation and position east of the sierra seem to oscillate up and down dramatically in several-year cycles. The 1930s seemed abnormally snowless, and the early 2000s were also quite mild and snowfall was scant. However, the mid 2000’s through this year have been MUCH snowier, in some years totals have been well above normal. The annual average on the lower part of the Reno Valley Floor is 24 inches per year, but this location which had seen less than 6 inches each of most winters of the early 2000s has gone on to see 50-60 inches in 2004-2005, while snowfall totals for calendar years 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010 were all 25 inches or more. The winter seasons of 2009-2010 and (to date) 2010-2011 each recorded 34 inches. the foothills obviously get much greater amounts than this. People will move to Reno Nevada foothills from Lower Michigan only to learn their new home in the “desert” gets twice as much snow as their old one. Trends dictating Reno elevation snowfall totals don’t usually correlate with snowfalls in the sierras above 5000 feet because even some of the wetter winters which dump on the sierras, may have brought rain below 5000 in town and the opposite, where relatively dry sierra years were still cold so the storms that did come through brought snow to Reno, meaning Reno snow was above normal but sierra totals were well below normal. In conclusion, as is seen in many mid latitude or mid elevation spots in the united states with snowfall averages in the 20’s, winters can vary from almost no snowfall to being absolutely buried most of the year. I posted this because not only are there more factors, oscillations and such than i have toes that go into factoring what winters around the country will be like, Government scientists argue that early symptoms of climate change in the form of modest warming in the Arctic has caused the Polar Vortex to destabilize, and this in theory loosens the “rubber band” of cold air mass at the pole wobbles around more due to this destabilization, and this allows periods of colder weather to dip further south and invade lower latitudes than in the past.

  40. Though it snowed today in Reno, it had reached 80 degrees 6 weeks ago. I should point out that the mediterranean climate-mountainous west, (and probably the European’s version, the alps), have “looser” seasons than eastern continental locations at lower elevations. In the intermountain west cities including Reno it is not uncommon at all to see irregular snowfall distribution, or snowfall occur early or especially late in the season. People forget that and seem to predictably be surprised when the snow flies in May, but spending 15 years here I can tell you that it almost always snows in april regularly, and May, June, or September flurries happen probably once or twice every couple years. This has to frustrate Interior Western Agriculture due to the lack of predictability of the last or first frost but it seems that fall is usually warmer than spring. This erratic seasonal behavior can happen anywhere but living on the East Coast it seems the climate there is more predictable and stable, their seasons are more defined. Even in places that get alot of snow, their snow is usually confined to actual wintertime.

  41. We are getting big wet feather flakes of snow in Boise this morning… very unusual for mid-May. This is March/April weather!

  42. The weather has been all over the place this winter with record lows and highs. Here in Sacramento we have no apricots. The weather warmed to the point the tree went into bloom and then abruptly cooled again causing the blossoms to drop. Capping this, warm humid weather kicked of a case of fire blight leading to serious pruning requirements to protect the tree. Meanwhile aggravating episodes of freezing nights that were not forecast killed off the kumquat blossoms so no kqs either. The lime tree and the fig appear to be doing fine though. I can remember my seventh grade teachers in Placerville being extremely grumpy after spending all night helping one them save his apple blossoms from frost. Since that was more than forty years ago, nothing much appears to have changed – except perhaps fewer teachers also grow a cash crop.

  43. If someone had gone long on May heating degree days for the Western US, they’d be making a mint right now.

  44. Hi Curt, up here in SF, yesterday you could see Mt. Wittenberg (high point of Pt. Reyes) from my hood in the central San Mateo County hills (again, very Feb like). Absolutely zero smog. Today we have another system coming in, you may get some rain as well, since the low is centered around Big Sur with fronts hanging south.

  45. In the middle of the country in Ohio the spring planting is three weeks late so far.

  46. Another record low Maximum :
    05/16/2011 – 52F, previous low Max 53F – 2000 – Weaverville, CA
    Snow down to 3500 feet stuck on the trees this morning, melted back to 4500 feet.

  47. Big deal, in Victoria we have had late autum low snow on the Dandenongs, an area that gets snow every 5 years in the depths of winter. Roll on AGW.

  48. This morning at 5:30 AM, I drove, at just under the 5000 ft elevation mark, through 4 inches of slick sloppy snow, and still coming down hard and continuously. I was driving my 2011 red Jeep Grand Cherokee, in 2nd/3rd, 4-wheel drive, snow mode. And still fishtailed like a trout trying to shake a hook. More snow is forcasted. All the snowmelt that is overfilling the streams and rivers in NE Oregon is, just as fast, being replaced by more of the same.

  49. I wonder what, 100 years from now, they might call 2011?
    It might be something like the year without a Spring, should this be the depth of it.
    Is there more?

  50. So its cold in North America – but in North-West Europe (UK, Belgium, Holland etc.) temps are above average. Is this a Rossby wave thing?

  51. A low grade version of “the atmospheric river” now seems to be under way. They are now progging a series of systems clear through the end of the month. The rotten levees left by the ex-Philanderator may not be able to take it when the inevitable reckoning comes next month.
    Meanwhile there is now serious concern about crop losses nation wide. Got food?

  52. All of the western states have snowpacks that are currently 110 to over 180 percent above normal with the exception of southern Colorado. Pretty unusual for most of the western states to be so far ahead on snowpack all at the same time rather than from one or two states. That
    Something for the global warming crowd…and enjoy their conniption fits.

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