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Climate and Environment

Just How Snowy And Cold Has It Been Here In Southern California? Some Details Might Surprise You

The Hollywood sign's white letters are visible on a green hillside with neighborhoods visible below and snow-capped mountains beyond.
The extraordinary view from Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area on March 2.
(Patrick T. Fallon
AFP via Getty Images)
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Around this time a year ago, we were deep in drought and wrapping up another hotter than usual winter.

Now, we’ve got chilly temperatures and an overwhelming amount of snow.

So, just how out of the ordinary has this winter been?

Our snowpack across the Southern Sierra is at 232% of normal, and downtown L.A. is experiencing chilly daytime highs we haven’t seen since the 1970s.

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So much snow

We’ve had a steady flow of snow for some months now, but this most recent storm dumped an unprecedented amount of powder, particularly on the San Bernardino Mountains, leaving people stranded and needing rescue.

“Fifty to 110 inches of snow in a seven-day period. We haven’t recorded that before,” said Alex Tardy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

In Big Bear, 81 inches fell in just one seven-day period. The last time records show anything close was when the area was inundated with 58 inches in 1979.

One silver lining: All that rain and snow has made a dent in drought conditions in the state.

Read more: Some Of California Is Free Of Drought, But The Climate Crisis Is Changing What That Means

A map of the state of California (left) shows the entire state in various shades from yellow to deep red, indicating where drought conditions exist. The same map at right has no deep reds and some of the state in white, indicating no drought.
A look at the notable change in drought conditions from November 2022 to March 2023
Courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor)

So many cold days

You also have to go back to the 1970s to find a time when downtown L.A.’s daily highs have been this cold through winter. So basically, no 72 degrees and sunny for us this winter.

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Surprisingly, this period wasn't the coldest we've seen even recently. There are a lot of variables to consider, but average daily temperature in downtown L.A. (across highs and lows) was colder in the 2000-2001 winter and in 1978.

Unsurprisingly, we’ve also seen below average temperatures up in our mountains over the past few months.

What about climate change?

Climate scientists have long talked about more extreme weather events becoming more common as the climate continues to change. That doesn’t just mean longer, hotter periods of drought, but intense, devastating amounts of precipitation.

“It’s going to happen again, yes. I just don’t know when. No one does,” said Tardy.

More rain is coming soon

Models are showing there’s potential for a tremendous amount of rain to arrive in Southern California next week, according to the National Weather Service. We’re looking at a potential January-to-March window that’s on par with some of the wettest and snowiest years on record.

Does it really feel colder to us here in SoCal?

Yes, yes it does.

There are a number of factors — including that our bodies adjust quickly to warmer or colder temperatures. You can read more about those factors in our story: Here’s Why Cold Weather Feels Colder In LA. And No, It's Not Just In Your Head

The view from space

That dramatic influx of snow is visible in these NASA images released last week. These satellite shots show the change in the snow levels in Southern California from Feb. 10 to Feb. 26.

An animation shows the massive rise in snowfall over Southern California going from largely brown to big swaths of white.
(Pictures courtesy NASA)
What do you want to know about fires, earthquakes, climate change or any science-related topics?
Jacob Margolis helps Southern Californians understand the science shaping our imperfect paradise and gets us prepared for what’s next.

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