What is this? It looks more like hail now. It was softer and squishier when it fell out of the sky only an hour or so before this picture was taken. There was a slight bit of snow up on Summit above Los Gatos. It will probably melt as quickly as the clouds clear to let the sunlight through. Snow sometimes appears on the higher peaks around the region, but is rare in lower elevations. Forty three years ago from today, on February 5 in 1976, snow fell in the Santa Clara Valley. It was about half an inch deep in some areas, an inch and a half in others, and was the last snow to fall there.
It was one of the more common types of snow in the Santa Clara Valley in the early 1970s.
In school, we made paper snow by folding paper squares in half and then into thirds (so that they were folded into sixths), and then cutting notches and slices out of them. They unfolded into the prettiest and laciest snowflakes!
In Westgate Mall, snow was blown by small fans about the new models of Singer sewing machines that were magically suspended in big acrylic spheres. We children could not get into the spheres, so were left wondering if the snow within was as cold and wet as we were told it was, and why it was necessary to demonstrate that the new sewing machines were resistant to weather. Our mother did her sewing inside.
We sort of suspected that the snow around the Nativity at Saint Thomas of Canterbury and other local parishes might be artificial because it looked like the stuffing of a pillow, which is something that all children seem to be familiar with. We said nothing about it, just in case our parents were not aware of the potential deception. However, it was rather disturbing to see so much of the same sort of snow at Christmas in the Park in San Jose. At that point, we accepted that either it must be genuine, or that we were committed to just going along with it.
Snow that was sprayed onto Christmas trees was rather interesting. It was neither wet nor cold, and sometimes it wasn’t even white. It could be pastel blue or pink, and was often sparkly with glitter! Wow!
Off in the distance, we could see snow on top of Mount Hamilton. Sometimes it was just on top. Sometimes, it was spread out from left to right, along the ridge. On rare occasion, snow appeared on the ridge of the East Hills, in front of the Diablo Range that Mount Hamilton is part of. We never saw who was up there folding and cutting all that snow, but they must have been VERY busy!
Snow on top of the Santa Cruz Mountains, right behind our part of the Santa Clara Valley, was closer to home, but did not look like much. The greenish blue of the forest was just a lighter hue of blue, with more mottling. It was exciting anyway.
Then, on February 5 in 1976, it actually SNOWED on the floor of the Santa Clara Valley!
It really was as awesome as snow was supposed to be. It was cold. It was wet. It was white. It was fun to wad up and throw at each other. It accumulated just like it would in a blizzard, and got almost an inch deep!
. . . but . . . was it really SNOW?
If you do not know what it is, ‘snow’ is like frozen rain.
If you do not know what rain is, I wrote about it earlier for those of us who are native to the drier parts of California. If you notice strange drops of water falling from the sky tonight, that would be rain. There is no need to be alarmed. It is expected to happen here tonight, and a few times for the next few days. Contrary to former experience, it is normal for this time of year.
Anyway, getting back to snow. Unlike rain, which sometimes happens here, snow does not happen here.
Well, perhaps that is not entirely true. It might have happened as recently as 11,700 years ago, as the Ice Age ended, and again in more recent history, in February of 1976, when an epically humongous snowstorm deposited as much as half an inch of snow over the Santa Clara Valley!
It is difficult to imagine such a huge volume of snow! It must have been disastrous! It would be even more disastrous now, with more than a million people just in San Jose, and many of them driving cars!
In 1976, we third graders did not consider it to be disastrous. We were not old enough to drive. We were perplexed and mystified at first, but rather quickly discovered that snow had serious potential for being fun. Our parents wadded it up into something known as ‘snowballs’ and then threw these snowballs at each other and the neighbors. Yes, I know it sounds crazy. Nonetheless, it looked like fun, so we tried it. It really was fun. We also discovered that we could just as easily throw snowballs at cars driving by, but we were instructed to not do that. We could see that the Santa Cruz Mountains were discolored by snow. They were an almost white hue of very pale blue, speckled with the more typical darker blue.
On very rare occasion, when the ‘smog’* and smoke blew away on clear and cold wintry days, we could see snow on the tops of the highest peaks of the Diablo Range east of the Santa Clara Valley, particularly on Mount Hamilton where Lick Observatory is located. We did not know what it was. Before snow happened in our own neighborhood, we wondered what discolored the peaks like that.
Now that smog rarely obscures the view of the Diablo Range, snow is visible on the group of peaks around Mount Hamilton almost annually. If it gets cold enough, a slight blush of snow might be seen on the lower East Hills in front of the Diablo Range. It is quite scary to think of how close to home snow can be. There happens to be snow up there right now!
I am sorry that I do not have a picture of the snow on Mount Hamilton. I will just recycle this picture of Bill trying to escape snow south of Oklahoma City.
* Historical notation – The East Hills and Diablo Range to the east of the Santa Clara Valley were rarely visible in the olden days because of ‘smog’. If you do not know what smog is, you are fortunate. I have not written about smog yet because it is a part of our history that we would prefer to forget. To be brief, smog was a common form of air pollution. Although there was less smog in winter, there was more smoke from ‘fireplaces’ and burning ‘orchard’ stubble. A fireplace was a primitive heating device that warmed the interiors of homes and other buildings with the combustion of wood. An orchard was a grove of trees that were installed and maintained for the production of fruits, nuts and a few other horticultural commodities. Orchards once occupied vast areas of the Santa Clara Valley. Orchards that were removed to relinquish space for other development provided some of the wood for fireplaces. Perhaps I should write more about these later. I understand that the ancient history of the Santa Clara Valley can be rather baffling at times.
It seems that almost all of us in the Northern Hemisphere are talking about it. Those of us who lack it can get to feeling somewhat deprived. It looks so pretty in pictures. It seems like such a natural part of winter. To many of us, it is a good excuse to take a break from gardening, stay inside, and write more compelling articles than the more technical sorts written when there is more activity in the garden.
In California, we get almost everything. Although most of the most densely populated ares lack snow, parts of the Sierra Nevada get more snow than anywhere else in the world. Californians can go to the snow to ski, hike, take pictures and do whatever people want to do in the snow; but we do not need to live with it at home like most people in other states do.
I grew up without snow. It snowed only once in 1974. It was only half an inch deep. The snow fell overnight while everyone slept, and it melted by early afternoon. Because the turf in the schoolyard was not resilient to snow, we were not allowed out there until the snow was gone. I later saw snow only when we went to where the snow was, in the Sierra Nevada. Snow only rarely fell at my home near the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains above town, and it stayed for only a few hours.
I never had to live with snow until I went to Oklahoma at the end of 2012. Even then, it was minimal. The first snow fell only about three weeks before we left, and it never accumulated more than two inches or so. The difference from what I had experienced prior to that was that it lingered. It took a few days to melt. As minimal as it was, I could totally understand why people who live with snow dislike it so. I really can not imagine living with more accumulation of snow for months at a time.
First of all, snow is cold. It is very cold. It is, after all, frozen. That would not seem like much of a problem when the air is already cold, but snow is different. It sticks to the sides of boot and makes them cold inside. It seems to hold the cold on whatever it covers, including parked cars.
Also, snow is wet. Yes, as I already mentioned, it is is frozen, but it is frozen ‘water’, and it does not stay frozen when one is trying to get warm after being out in it. It gets clothing and everything else wet, just like a light rain. Frozen snow gets tracked in on boots and then melts just inside the doorway.
To go along with that, snow is messy. As cars drive through it, it becomes muddy, but does not necessarily melt right away. It becomes slushy mud that splatters onto otherwise clean cars.
There is actually quite a list of things to dislike about snow. It is dangerous on roadways. When it gets pushed off of roadways, it piles up around parked cars and on top of plants that happen to be in the way. I think that I prefer to see it in pictures of Switzerland, Minnesota, Ontario and Mount Hood as it looks from Portland.
Sometimes I think that it would be nice if we got a bit more of a chill here. We would be able to grow more varieties of apples, pears and other fruits. Perhaps peonies would do better, and autumn foliar color would be more spectacular. There are so many things that we can not grow or that do not perform as well as they want to in such a mild climate. However, all those frost sensitive plants that we can grow that others can not grow are nice too. Either way, I will pass on the snow.
Bill was mostly blind by the time we went to Oklahoma, but he could feel the snow on the ground well enough to determine that he did not like it either.