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Rains falling, but snow possible in low-elevation areas

February 25, 2011 |  4:49 pm


How low will it go?

That's the question on the minds of people from Haight-Ashbury to Laurel Canyon as an unusually cold rainstorm moved into California on Friday, plunging the snow level to as low as 1,000 feet.

Forecasters said it is possible San Francisco could get its first dusting of snow in 35 years. And if the conditions are right, even the Hollywood sign could see some snow.

Even with the cold conditions, it is unlikely that any snow in the Hollywood Hills or other low-elevation hillsides would stick to the ground, said Ryan Kittell, a National Weather Service forecaster.

"Snow isn’t going to be piling up on the ground," he said. "If a strong shower or a thunderstorm forms over a foothill, they’ll get some rain, and possibly a mix with a dusting of snow."

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the San Bernardino Mountains, Santa Ana Mountains and the foothills. A cold system will move south along the coast late Friday, and flow inland through Saturday night, the warning states.

Forecasts call for low temperatures in the 30s on Saturday in many parts of Los Angeles County. The unusually cold temperatures are due to a low pressure center that flows south from Alaska. The system typically stays north of Los Angeles, Kittell said, but this time will "track right over LA."

"The rain is fairly common, but the cold air behind is something we see once every five or 10 years," Kittell said.

Snowfall is possible in areas above 1,000 feet, such as the Hollywood Hills, La Cañada Flintridge and Santa Clarita, but it will be mixed with rains and won’t accumulate on the ground, Kittell said.

More intense conditions are forecast at higher elevations. Kittell said it is likely that the Grapevine and other mountain passes could see delays.

"It’s definitely going to be an interesting travel day tomorrow," Kittell said. "Areas that don’t often deal with icy or snowy conditions will probably be dealing with that."

Robert Shuck, a California Highway Patrol officer at the Fort Tejon station, said patrol officers were monitoring weather reports and preparing to escort drivers along the Grapevine on Friday and Saturday.

Snow showers were reported in Santa Rosa on Friday afternoon, which has an elevation of only 150 feet.

Duane Dykema, a weather forecaster in San Francisco, said it was hard to predict whether the showers would fall over the Bay Area, which is about 60 miles south.

"Right now the showers are very isolated," he said. "It’s just a matter of whether or not it happens to drift over the city … at this point it's hard to say."

Dykema explained that the showers are "convective" in nature, meaning that they drag down cold air from above, allowing snow to fall. Because the surrounding air temperatures are warmer, he said, the snow doesn’t accumulate once it hits the ground.

-- Sam Allen