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A Snowcapped New Year in OC

WEB-EXCLUSIVE: With recent California heat waves, it's easy to forget about our county's days of snow.

Tustin orange grove with smudge pots, January 1949/Courtesy of Tustin Area Historical Society

Snow in Orange County? Maybe in Orange County, Virginia or Orange County, Vermont, but never in Orange County, California could we wake up under a white-capped rooftop. Right? Wrong. Many long-time Orange Countians will never forget that early January in 1949, when the familiar landscape changed to a bizarre winter wonderland. Heavy snow laced Southern California, surprising locals with the strangest weather OC has ever faced. The snowfall began on the evening of January 10, after a long rain spell in the midst of a wave of bitter cold. Over the next two days, the temperature averaged between 20 to 25 degrees throughout Orange County. An overall average of two inches of snow hit, with greater concentrations in the Santa Ana Mountains and other elevated areas. Silverado raised the most eyebrows, with reports of snow reaching over six inches. Irvine Ranch reached four inches of snow as the flatter areas of Orange, Tustin and Irvine all reached three inches on January 11.

Tustin orange grove with smudge pots, January 1949/Courtesy of Tustin Area Historical Society

San Clemente, Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach all showed off snow-laden hillsides but presented frustration with closed-off roads and freeways due to the slickened roads and resulting traffic accidents. Oddly, north OC beach communities, including Huntington Beach, reported warmish coastal waters. Some even flocked to the beach for a swim.

But for the children, it was like a second Christmas. Most public schools were closed, leaving kids (and the young-hearted) everywhere to throw snowballs and make new snowman friends… with tree branches and carrot noses. Meanwhile, jubilant teenagers trekked to the hills for skiing and sightseeing.

But the snow brought bad news for many OC ranchers and farmers, not prepared to have their agriculture so layered. Many local farms and ranches had already suffered from a previous record-breaking frost, which had resulted in nearly $60 million in losses. At least through the snowfall, orange growers received a break because of the snow’s moisture and precipitation said to benefit the citrus belt.

Eventually, the snow melted away after January 13, as the following sporadic rainfall ushered the OC back to normalcy. Never again has the county witnessed such an unfamiliar weather phenomenon. While this was not the first time, as snow fell upon Orange County nearly half a century earlier, it was certainly the last. Today, snowfall in the OC is considered highly unlikely with global climate change and warmer weather. But considering Orange County and its limitless possibilities, you never know.


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