Freak Valentine's Day Snowstorm
By relling on Feb 17, 2008
Every once in a while, they get it wrong. Very wrong. As a rancher, I tend to pay attention to the weather report. Though it doesn't rain very often in Southern California, it can still ruin your day, or at least make ranch chores a messy endeavor. This week had been a more typical week, mostly sunny, highs in the 60s-70s, lows in the 40s, last week's rains a distant memory. Today's forecast was more of the same, with a slight chance of drizzle in the morning as a cold front passed. "No big deal!" claimed meteorologist John Coleman. So, when morning came with a light sprinkle, we weren't really surprised. If it drizzles down at Lindbergh Field, where the official San Diego weather is measured, it might sprinkle up here in the mountains. No big deal.
By lunchtime I figure we had about 1/4 of an inch of rain and was beginning to wonder when the sun would break through the clouds and bring the promised 70 degrees of sunshine. Alas, it was still mostly cloudy. Regina went into town to run some errands, while I joined a conference call. During the call, I noticed that the wind was picking up, mostly from the northeast. Normally when the winds blow from the northeast, the deserts, they are dry and will clear up any fog or drizzle rather quickly. But I noticed that during the conference call, it sounded like hail was hitting the window.
Then the lightning started. OK, that was odd. Sure we do get a thunderstorm every once in a while, and pea-sized hail often accompanies them. The wind was blowing stronger now and I was beginning to think that the drizzle forecast was a bit optimistic. One hour on the conference call down, hopefully we'll wrap up soon.
Suddenly, Regina burst into the office amongst a flurry of snow and ice, looking like Nanook coming in from a blizzard.
"Hi sweetie! Is it hail?"
"No! It is snowing and icing and I had to park down at the barn and walk up the hill to the house!"
Snow?!? Sure enough, behind Regina it looked rather... white. How can this be? Forecast partly sunny, 70s.
After the call, I trudged outside to see what was up. Sure enough, snow everywhere. The wind was howling, and more snow was coming. Absolutely no sign of the sun. Rats! I don't even like snow!
A quick look towards the highway confirmed that everything was falling apart. The few intrepid travelers were trying to negotiate the curves without kissing the boulders, and I knew my plans were dashed. I had everything worked out well in advance. Conference call after lunch. Regina off running errands. A quick dash into town to pick up the Valentine's Day flowers and gift. Swing by the grocery for some fresh seafood and a nice bottle of wine. Dinner was going to be awesome, followed by sweet kisses. Now this. Snow! If I wanted to live were it snowed, I would live somewhere else. In the eight years here at the ranch, we'd only seen a few dustings at this altitude, nothing that would stick. It was nearly 70 degrees yesterday, there is no way this would stick, or so I hoped.
Now, I had to work on plan B. As a RAS guy, I always have a plan B and plan C, just in case, with a plan D for dire emergencies. We started the evening chores early, even though it was still snowing and blowing. By dusk it had mostly stopped snowing at the ranch as the storm passed to the south. I took a picture of Swanson, our Black Swan, who was not at all happy with the weather.
Well, Valentine's dinner worked out ok. The flowers were a day late, but still pretty. We received about three inches of slushy snow, most of which melted before freezing later in the evening. The surprise snowstorm caused a bunch of accidents and stranded hundreds of motorists. The really odd thing was that none of the weather forecasters saw it coming. I'm sure they will blame the forecasting models or data collection, but at the end of the day, Swanson still won't believe them... they just blew it.