Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Californians and snow

(I'm writing this post for the benefit of my European readers, mainly. One just sent me a snowy postcard, figuring snow would be a novelty. Those who have lived in California will not find much news here.)

As I visited a friend's apartment across town this past Sunday, November 20th, I wandered past the pool. A couple of people were sunning themselves by it. Granted, they were pressed all the way into the one corner that had any sun in the November afternoon, but they were out at midday in swimsuits. The weather here this fall has been unseasonably warm. For November, it should be colder and wetter here than it is now.

Still, "sunny California" is partly a myth. If you visit California during the winter months, bring your jacket. It does not snow in most of California, but it does get cold and wet, especially anywhere north of San Francisco. If you visit San Francisco or any of the north coast in summer, bring your jacket, too. San Francisco is surrounded on three sides by water, and it gets very cold and windy. San Francisco gift shops make a lot of money, no doubt, by selling sweatshirts to unprepared, chilly tourists.

Most of California gets little or no rain during the long summers, and most of it sees no snow. The mountains, especially in the north and east part of the state, do get summer rains and winter snows. I visited Truckee, California in late May one year and it snowed. The Donner Party, a group of early settlers to California, got stuck in snow over 20 feet/6m deep in those mountains.

The relative rarity of real weather has led to some peculiar behavior on the part of Californians. For one thing, we don't know how to drive in rain or snow. The first good rainstorm each season invariably brings many accidents and traffic jams. Another consequence is that many of us find snow so novel that we get in our cars and drive for several hours to go see it. After a winter storm, the roads leading from the San Francisco area to Lake Tahoe get clogged on the weekends with skiers and snowboarders headed that way.

I personally do not ski, but I did visit an uncle in southern California one year at Christmas. We all hopped in his pickup truck one day, drove for about an hour to a nearby mountain, collected a truckload of snow, drove back to my uncle's house, and built a six-foot (2m) snowman in his driveway in our short sleeves, beside his blooming roses. Our snowman didn't last very long, but we had fun.


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