← PreviousNext →When was the last time real snow fell in the South Bay / Harbor Area?
Snow can be seen on the hills of the Palos Verdes Peninsula following the Jan. 11, 1949, snowfall. (Photo courtesy of San Pedro Bay Historical Society)
When was the last time it snowed, really snowed and stayed on the ground, in the South Bay and Harbor Area?
Unlike some Southern California areas near foothills that do receive snow from time to time when the level drops to the lower elevations, the South Bay and Harbor Area rarely gets a dusting of the white stuff.
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We do get our share of freakish storms, a couple of which I’ve blogged about in the past.Redondo Beach was pounded by major storms in 1952 and 1953 that inflicted much damage on its coastal area.
A waterspout forms off of the Golden Cove area of Palos Verdes Estates on Jan. 3, 2005. (Photo by Bill Watson)
Water spouts occasionally pop up off the Southern California coast during more violent storms. More extreme storms also can produce hailstones, which, while not common, do fall from our skies from time to time.
And tornadoes, though rare, have touched down on land in the South Bay over the years, most notably in Hawthorne in 1930, 1966 and 1983.
But snowfall is much rarer.
A coating of graupel, or soft hail, carpeted this Lunada Bay neighborhood on March 2, 2015. (Photo By Rose Ramsay)
As recently as March 2, 2015, a blanket of white covered parts of the Southern California coastline, including parts of the Palos Verdes Peninsula and an even thicker layer at Huntington Beach in Orange County.
Technically, it wasn’t snow, however, but graupel. Graupel, also known as soft hail or snow pellets, forms when raindrops are collected and freeze on a falling snowflake, forming small, soft balls of ice that fall to the ground. This snow/hail hybrid is softer in consistency than hail, and about as close to the real thing as one can get without having an actual snowfall.
The graupel that fell last March covered the ground with about an inch of the stuff, enough for students at Lunada Bay Elementary to make “hail balls” and for surfers at Huntington Beach to ride their boards down icy sand dunes and make a “hail man” near the beach.
It may not have been actual snow, but it was soft enough and plentiful enough to look like the real thing.
Downtown Manhattan Beach following a 1937 hailstorm. 100 block of Center Street (now Manhattan Beach Blvd.) looking west towards the pier. (File photo)
The real thing has fallen in Southern California in the past.
According to the Los Angeles Times, hail turned to snow briefly in the Pasadena area on Jan. 15, 1928, but failed to stick on the ground.
A more wide-ranging storm dropped snow in parts of Corona, Pomona and Ontario on Jan. 13, 1932, with traces also falling near Pasadena, Monrovia and Burbank.
The overnight snowfall that fell in northern San Bernardino that same day stayed on the ground until noon the next day.
Traces of snow also were reported in the Los Angeles Basin on Jan. 1 and Feb. 21, 1942.
When it comes to South Bay and Harbor Area, though, the precipitation that fell on Jan. 11, 1949, was the most authentic snowstorm the area has ever seen.
On Jan. 11, 1949, it snowed locally, as seen in this photo taken on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. (Photo courtesy of San Pedro Bay Historical Society)
Four to six inches of snow blanketed San Pedro and the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and stayed on the ground, much to the delight of local residents.
“We all ran out and tried to make snowmen,” Al Bitonio, who lived on 15th Street between Palos Verdes and Center streets, told reporter Donna Littlejohn, then writing for More San Pedro, in 2005.
San Pedro residents make a snowman following the Jan. 11, 1949 storm. (Photo courtesy of San Pedro Bay Historical Society)
“I don’t think any of us had ever seen snow before,” wrote Sam Domancich in 2004, also for More San Pedro. “White flakes began to swirl around us like tiny feathers being blown by the wind. We couldn’t figure out what they were.”
Snow also fell in Torrance, 1.25 inches of it, leading to an outbreak of snowman-building as documented in the Torrance Herald:
Torrance Herald front page, Jan. 13, 1949. (Credit: Torrance Historical Archive database, Torrance Public Library)
Impromptu ski slopes developed in the Palos Verdes Hills. Students played hooky in large numbers from the Torrance schools, and Sam Levy reported a 50 percent increase in the sales of long underwear at his Levy Department Store in downtown Torrance.
Fortunately, several photos taken of the freak event survive in the archives of the San Pedro Bay Historical Society.
In more recent years, enough graupel fell on Dec. 6, 1978, Jan. 31, 1979, Feb. 25, 1987, December 1990, Jan. 12, 2001, and Jan. 7, 2005, to simulate a winter wonderland, however briefly. But actual snow has yet to make a reappearance.
If the predicted El Nino weather conditions fall just the right way in the next couple of months, maybe we’ll see real snow again. Or something – like graupel – resembling it.