Cold Storm Brings the Rare Thrill of ‘Snow Watch’ to Southern California

A cold storm system moved in Southern California on Thursday, bringing rare snow to the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu and soft hail to areas like Calabasas, Northridge and Pasadena.

Meteorologists had warned that the storm system could bring fresh white powder to lower elevations, possibly even to the Hollywood Hills.

"No need to panic Los Angeles — the LAPD is on snow watch," the Police Department tweeted, along with video of a light flurry.

Around 12:50 p.m., a video tweeted out by the Los Angeles County Fire Department's Air Operations showed snow falling in the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu, at a level of approximately 1,500 feet.

In the nearby celebrity haven of Calabasas, actor Jerry O'Connell recorded video of himself as snow fell on his car and quickly melted.

"It is snowing in Calabasas right now – crazy," O'Connell said in a video he tweeted out .

KTLA also received reports of snow from viewers in other areas near the Santa Monica Mountains, including Agoura Hills, Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley, as well as in Northridge, Eagle Rock and Pasadena.

It wasn't immediately clear whether all those sightings were snow, or if they were graupel or hail. Seeking to cut through the confusion, the National Weather Service took to Twitter Thursday afternoon to describe different types of precipitation.

"If precip bounces it contains ice - call it sleet or small hail. If precip in flakes it's snow, white balls are melted flakes called graupel," the tweet read.

The white stuff arrived in Southern California with a very cold storm that added even more precipitation in a wet winter that has almost eliminated drought conditions statewide.

Jason Fish sent KTLA video of his daughters playing in the snow falling in Upland on Feb. 21, 2019.

Jason Fish sent KTLA video of his daughters playing in the snow falling in Upland on Feb. 21, 2019.

"It's beautiful," said Kate Porter, a resident of the desert community of Joshua Tree.

A foot of snow (30 centimeters) was reported in that area at Pioneertown, the National Weather Service said. Similar amounts were reported in the upper elevations of the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains.

Rare "thundersnow" was observed at Big Bear in the San Bernardino range, where road closures were being reported.

Snow closed heavily traveled 5 Freeway in the Grapevine north of Los Angeles until Caltrans crews could clear the roadway, allowing traffic to resume under Highway Patrol escorts. To the east, the 15 Freeway over the Cajon Pass remained open but with some slowing because of conditions.

Snow levels had been expected to plummet to 2,000 feet, but could drop as low as 1,000 feet in Los Angeles County, the weather service had said.

That means even the Hollywood Hills could receive snow, meteorologist David Sweet told the Los Angeles Times.

“This is probably the coldest storm system I’ve seen in my time in California,” Sweet told the newspaper. “We’ve had cold mornings and freeze conditions, but I don’t remember seeing anything quite this cold.”

It hasn’t snowed in L.A. since January 1962, the Times reported, citing the Los Angeles Public Library archives. Downtown L.A. hasn't seen measurable snow since Jan. 9, 1949, when 0.3 inches fell, National Weather Service meteorologist Kristen Stewart told KTLA.

Other parts of Los Angeles County were already blanketed by snow Thursday morning, including parts of Palmdale. And video showed hail falling in the Santa Clarita Valley early in the afternoon.

Up to 2 inches of snow is possible in Antelope Valley foothills, while up to 6 inches could fall on the eastern San Gabriel Mountains, according to the weather service.

“It’s going to be a fairly unusual day,” Sweet said, “to say the least.”

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