Fifty years ago yesterday, on December 13, 1967, from Borrego Springs to downtown to Oceanside, snow fell in San Diego County. Perhaps the most dramatic scene was a blanket of snow on the beaches of coastal North County.
San Diego's December 13, 1967 snow day (College Grove, 3400 block of Rowe Street)
Meteorologists at Lindbergh Field watched temperatures drop almost 20 degrees in the eight hours before the flurries began to fall at 7:30 a.m., and it was only 38 degrees. The official recorded amount at the airport measured two inches — it lasted for a little over an hour. In other areas, snow piled up several inches and allowed school kids to go out and play, if they were let out of class.
I inquired on an old-school Encinitas Facebook site for some local remembrances of that day.
Debbieleah Cochran remembered being in the fifth grade at Pacific View Elementary School. Her teacher, Mrs. Jones, would not let the class go out and play. Turns out it was the principal, Mr. Ufer, who wouldn’t let the kids go out. “We didn’t have snow gear,” was the reason posted by Catherine Green. “Can you tell I’m still PO’d?,” she added.
Joe Corder remembers the day the nuns at Saint John Catholic School were happy: the day it snowed. “In all my eight years of school that was the only day that I actually saw all the nuns smile, while they were playing in the snow.” However, the fun and games stopped when someone threw a snowball at a nun, said Deborah Cunning Koch. “The kids were immediately assembled into lines and marched straight into classes.”
Over at San Dieguito High School, Bob Moore remembered “an outa control snowball melee on the grassy knoll outside the gym. High school posturing disappeared, everyone became kids again.” Kathy Stanton remembered a snowman being built on the senior lawn.
In first grade at Carlsbad’s St. Patrick’s, Erin Lofthouse asked her mom if school would be canceled. Mrs. Lofthouse replied, “Who cares? This day is special, so you'll be playing hooky."
It was a “snow day” at Palomar College. Daphne Moore Mitchell was released from her morning classes, arriving home to her front yard in the 700 block of San Marcos Road (now Encinitas Boulevard) covered in a blanket of snow.
Anita Williams Weinberg remembers she didn’t have any snow boots. “My mom tied Baggies over my sneakers to walk to kindergarten.”
Snow in San Diego’s coastal suburbs only happened twice in the 20th Century, 1967 and in 1937. Could it happen again, even with indications of climate change?
“Yes,” says the National Weather Service’s Alex Tardy, a meteorologist in the Rancho Bernardo weather center. “Similar conditions repeated in December of 2014,” he said. Snow fell from Temecula to Escondido. And it wasn’t just on the surrounding foothills.
The weather pattern needed for countywide snow sets itself up about every 20 years, says Tardy. “We have to have a cold Arctic front come directly down from Alaska, through Washington, Oregon, and the Sierra Nevada. If it goes over the ocean, it picks up moisture and the high-elevation snow turns into rain.”
Tardy pointed out that if the current sunny and dry-through-Christmastime pattern of a high-pressure trough circulating around central California were 500 miles to the west, it would be the exact pattern needed to pull an Arctic cold front into San Diego.
“We thought it was going to happen in 2014 [snow on the coast], but the front just stopped over Temecula,” said Tardy. Temecula received about a foot of snow.
I can remember my disappointment in 1967. Although we had some snow play time on the football field during the morning, when the Oak Crest Jr. High School bus made its first stop at the corner of Lake Drive and Birmingham Drive, we only saw a tiny patch of snow left, under then blue skies.