A few people have been talking about this, but unfortunately they weren’t old enough to experience it first hand [you darn kids!]. In 1976 something weird happened in San Francisco…it snowed. Now I spent plenty of time outside San Francisco on vacations and even had a chance as a five year old to drive up to Hamm’s Station in the Sierra’s from my Aunt’s house in Jackson to experience snow and tobogganing. Unfortunately my much larger football playing cousin fell off the back leaving light old me to shoot up over the end of the snow and head face first for a trailer hitch with my parents just standing there screaming and doing nothing to stop the toboggan. For some reason a little voice in my head told me to lie down and I slid under the car and was stopped by a gas pump.
That was the last time I was allowed on a toboggan, but it wasn’t the last time I dealt with snow. So on sometime around February 5, 1976 I heard my Grandmother yelling from downstairs for me and I jumped up and ran downstairs at 3am thinking what do you want and why are you screaming at me at 3am in the morning and then she opened the back door. SNOW, in San Francisco. There must have been close to a foot at the time because it was the middle of the night. Our dog ran down and ran outside and got to the bottom of the stairs and decided to come back in the house. He had never seen snow so this was something he didn’t understand. I started making snowballs and throwing them all over the place of course because that’s what you do with snow.
In the morning there was still snow and I got bundled up for junior high school and walked down and as I turned the corner was hit by a snowball. OK, it’s on now. I knew how to be a machine gun with snowballs and several of the kids started to run away while a few joined my team. One of my friends Martin who was on the other team who happened to make a rather large snowball and as I saw it coming at me I ducked and heard a rather large crack behind me. Apparently it was so big because it was a snowball made around a heap of frozen dog poop. Throwing frozen dog poop is kind of like throwing a rock at someone because the person who got hit took it right in the nose and ended up with a broken nose. That was probably the most not fun part of the snow storm.
The roads were icy in places and it was the first time a lot of the city kids had not only seen snow, but seen cars swinging back and forth on the ice. Note I had hike a few miles to the Sulphur Works in December at Lassen Volcanic Park with a friend of mine Mark Ghiorso wearing snowshoes so there was a bit of mountain man in me. Slipping on the ice you just expected if you didn’t have crampons attached to your shoes which we didn’t. I understood the snow while most of the other kids didn’t.
This was a whole new world to a lot of us, but we actually have had snow since then. I lived for a short time in Midland Terrace and in the mornings would see a few trucks coming down off the top of the mountain and they’d have some snow in the back of their trucks. In 1986 I worked on the third floor of the Pacific Bell Building and we started to see snow fall and all ran downstairs to see the snow which had melted by the ground floor and just turned into rain.
We do have every few years of weather where it’s cold enough for your car windshield to ice over which I would always go and get a bucket of hot water and pour over the windshield. The first couple of times my wife would yell at me because you apparently don’t do that back east because it either freezes over or cracks your windshield. Well, on the west coast it doesn’t stay cold enough for that to happen and the ice just melted away.
Snow can be fun, but after hearing what living through a winter back east is like, I’ve decided I’ll just take the cold rain here. You don’t need an old beater car to drive in the snow so you don’t ruin your good car. You don’t need chains and the stores don’t run out of food and your power doesn’t go out for a couple of weeks at a time. Thank you San Francisco.
It looks like winter has finally arrived in San Francisco. Winter here is different that in other parts of the country. We don’t get snow [well maybe every 30 years we get an inch], we don’t get ice, we don’t get below zero temperatures, but for some reason you are freezing when it’s 60° outside. It’s a different kind of cold. It’s a very wet cold that soak through to the bone and there are a few things you have to keep in mind.
If you have a fireplace check to see if you can close the flu. I have to do that today because even though we have our fireplace blocked off with our daughter’s toys I was still gettiing hit by 50-60 mph wind gusts blowing down the chimney and around the boxy toys blocking the fireplace. Make sure the windows are closed because cold air will blow in and if have your heater on it’s just sucking the heat out the window. If you have gas heating, use it. It’s cheap compared to electric space heaters and will keep your PG&E costs down. It will also warm the whole house and not just a room. Don’t use your fireplace, especially if you’ve closed the flue as it will heat only the one room and might flow over a bit to a closer room. Things like this will make your home life more comfortable. It’s also more eco-friendly not to use your fireplace.
When you have to leave your house, always bring a small umbrella. It might be clear when you leave, but an hour into it you’ll be hit by a downpour. You’ll also have to make sure you wear layers just the rest of the year, but it’ll be time to pull out the sweaters and other long sleeve shirts. Think of how the people dress on the TV shows in New York. You’ll want that. You might sweat a bit on your way in, but trust me, you’ll be warm.
If you’re one of the lucky few that gets to drive into work you’ve got another thing to deal with and that is the manhole covers on hills. I haven’t been out today, but I’m sure with the rain that’s been coming down that we have a few manhole covers being lifted up by too much water and flooding the streets as it rolls down the hill. You won’t need to sandbag your house if you live in an area like this unless it’s a heavy downpour and you live in the downward corner houses. The streets are also not very even so you’ll get puddle build up especially near corner drains that get blocked with pine needles and leaves being blown off the trees. I would suggest you keep to the middle lanes when driving. I remember a horrible experience I had when driving in San Rafael one winter where I was driving and underpass and saw a line of water all the way across and thought to myself…PUDDLE JUMPING TIME! Turns out as I speed up the water was over three feet deep and spewed everywhere soaking my engine and stalling out my car. Luckily I had time to get off to the side, but this was before cell phones so I just put on my blinkers and luckily a tow truck came by and took my AAA card and helped me out.
Another thing you’ll need to think about is power outages. Even in San Francisco where it gets wet and windy, but not as bad as the North Bay we get power outages. If it happens after you go to bed then your alarm doesn’t go off and you’re late for work. You’ll get up and have no power to cook yourself breakfast unless you’ve got a gas stove [we don’t]. It helps to have one of those butane burners on hand if the powers out for awhile. Don’t open your refrigerator or freezer very often to make sure you keep things cold. The frozen stuff will stay frozen for a day or so, but your refrigerator might get warm because it’s used more often within 12 hours. It’s also nice to have an old style oil burning lamp. I have my grandmothers for when we’re sitting in a room together, but we also have several rechargeable very bright lights that will last for 12 hours we can carry around with us. It’s kind of interesting showering and shaving in the dark with nothing but a bright LED light to brighten the room. We also have a gas grill outside that we can cook on if it’s not a downpour. If it is we should think about getting an awning to cover it.
If you need to kill time hopefully your iPhone/iPad/Tablet/SmartPhone has 3G or 4G that can pick up a connection. I learned how to turn my iPhone into an alarm clock with out it buzzing with every email or tweet I get. Just be careful that you don’t overuse your time or you’ll have to pay big time. I always kind of liked the quite during a power outage. It just makes me feel like I’m not being attacked by electrical energy from all the devices in the house. The power outages only last about four hours, usually less unless it’s an earthquake then it could be 12 hours without power. I have some friends who own a Victorian they restored to its original form so if they get a power outage they light the gas ceiling lamps and are fine. Most of their appliances are gas powered which saves them money and keeps them going during a blackout. Just a little something to think about.
Yes, winter is the magical time of Christmas, but there’s nothing magical about living in a freezing house or working in a freezing office. I do like coming home from work and opening the door and feeling heat hit my face. To me that’s the magical part of winter for me.
When I was a young teenager I had a mentor, Mark who was working on a degree in Geochemistry. This meant he had to do a lot of field work and I was lucky enough to be asked to accompany him on a tree up north to Lassen Volcanic Park. He was studying hot springs and what better time to study them than in winter. You really haven’t lived until you’ve seen hot springs in winter.
We traveled up to the Lassen ski resort and had to snow shoe about a mile to the Sulphur Works. As we pulled into the parking lot I saw wall of freshly ploughed snow and I got an idea. While we were staying in a hotel we still had a lot of stuff you would need when hiking up to the outback wilderness areas of Lassen. I have an idea I said because this wasn’t going to be a work only trip and i pull a saw out of the trunk and started cutting blocks of snow and piling them up. I can’t find a picture of it, but it looks a bit like the picture I included with this article. Being from San Francisco and not being a skier snow is a fascinating thing to me because I don’t see it. I haven’t seen snow in over 15 years and people look at be funny when I pick it up in my hand.
It was cold and a bit windy out, but we proceeded on and soon had a 10’x10′ igloo built. We crawled inside and found that without the wind hitting you we suddenly felt warmer. A few passers by stopped to take a look and we invited them in. People were surprised at how nice it felt inside a hand built tent of snow. Granted it wasn’t as nice as the ski lodge, but still it was better than standing out in the cold winter air.
We left the igloo and traveled up to the Sulphur Works. The heat of the hot springs had melted the snow all around it and air was surprisingly warm and humid. The strange part of the humid sulphur filled air is that it would freeze on your hair and create little icicles. The water in these springs has an almost unbearable stench and we spent a few hours testing the pH and temperature of the waters there. The smell of rotting eggs was heavy in the air, but when we finished we made our trek back and stopped at the lodge for some hot chocolate. As we walked back to the car we noticed that our abandoned igloo had remained untouched and that there was a beer cooler sitting out side. When we poked our heads in there were a couple of squatters who had taken over my igloo. I told them that I had built it a few hours ago and they were welcome to it.
Every year I get into the holiday spirit early, but this year it took me awhile. Twas the night before Christmas Eve and I had to take a trip to 34th and Quintara to get in the mood. There’s a guy who owns the corner house that for every holiday puts up a display for everyone to see. Whether it’s Valentine’s day or St. Patrick’s day he does up the house, but Christmas is his biggest time of the year.
I have no idea what his name is, but tomorrow I’m going to knock on his door and introduce myself to him. Cars that drive by his house slow down and people bring their kids to have their pictures taken in front of the house. His house is so magically Christmasy that even during the day it looks beautiful. Why he hasn’t been written up in the paper yet is beyond me, but I’m hoping someone from the Chronicle or Examiner or even SF Weekly will stop by and interview him.
He works hard to do what he does and i feel he should be acknowledged for it. We take our daughter down every Christmas and Halloween [the two biggest times for this houses decorations] just to see that WOW look on her face. He is the Santa for all the kids that need something more than the mall Santa’s. He doesn’t get paid to do this, but he does it anyway. That’s a rare thing in this day and age and I feel he needs to be recognized for it.
If you get a chance, definitely go by and see his house. It is a wonderful Christmas tradition that is non-sectarian like the Christmas’ I knew as a kid. In honor of his work, I did a little work tonight and put together a video tribute to his house and it’s decorations. I hope you enjoy it and drive by and see his place. He and his wife are doing a great community service for what they are doing and they deserve an award. My video is the best I have to offer so far. I’ve included a slideshow at the top from pics I took last year and this year. While I can’t give a gift to all of my readers I hope you’ll all accept this. Enjoy!
Louis Black once said that the best job in the world would be the weatherman in San Diego, “How’s the weather today Bob?…Nice.” Now I don’t want to put down our local meteorologists [the new way to de-sexify weatherman], but our people who handle the weather have their work cut out for them and they should get paid more than the same people in San Diego where it’s nice.
I love my weather app on my iPhone and since my wife is from the East Coast I’ve learned that the Weather Channel is sacred to them back there. Whenever someone from the East Coast comes to SF they always want to watch the Weather Channel for some reason. I always tell them you can watch, but don’t expect them to get it right all the time.
San Francisco has four micro-climates, The Fog Belt out by the beach, the Banana Belt out in the Mission, The Wind tunnel of downtown and I’m not a meteorologist, so I don’t remember the name of the fourth, but I believe it’s on the Bay side of the city. When I lived out in the Mission district for six years I don’t think I put on a sweatshirt once unless I was traveling over the hills to get to my parents house in the Sunset where I gladly live now. Here in the Sunset I sometimes get to wear a short sleeve shirt, but it’s usually under several layers because the morning start out cold and wet and sometimes actually warm up so you have to shed your layers of clothes until around 2-3pm when the wind starts to kick up and then you put on heavier clothes if you have to spend time outdoors at all.
Meteorologists always have to give a forecast for the coasts and inlands because you can see as much as a 40° difference in weather. When I go to work it’s cold and wet out here in the late morning and when I get to work in Marin it’s bright and sunny. It was warm there today and for once they got it right. It was supposed to be hot on Friday, but then the wind changed direction and it got cooler and foggier. Then yesterday it was supposed to be heavy fog at the coasts and it was more like an overcast day with high clouds, at least in the Sunset. Richmond District may have been worse.
We all know that the best way to spot a tourist in San Francisco is anyone you see downtown in Summer in shorts. May, if we’re lucky and then usually September & October are the times for wearing your tank tops and shorts [usually]. Sometimes like when we had the big el Niño in the late 90’s we had to wear our winter coats in July and I was grilling in shorts and a tank top on New Year’s Eve. There’s a lot of things that screw with our weather here, but it’s mostly the winds on the coast and the hills. I called my wife from work today to see how things where going, “It’s cold and wet”. I didn’t really want to tell her I was basking in 78° bright sun in Marin, so I just left that out, but she likes the fog here anyway.
Predicting the weather is a hit or miss option in San Francisco so make sure the next time you listen to a weather report to cut your weatherperson a little slack. If they could control the weather they wouldn’t care what you think because they’d be Gods. Oh and contrary to popular belief, Mark Twain never said, The coldest summer I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.
I was surfing around the web yesterday when I got a notification that an old friend of mine Kirsten had added me to the Sunset District Group on facebook. I had to check this out since it’s one more thing about San Francisco. I’m glad I did.
Someone started this group so that all the people who grew up and or lived in the neighborhood could get together and talk about the old times. I like nostalgia so as I’m starting to look over the postings a portion of my brain unlocked and all these childhood memories started flooding back in.
Names I hadn’t heard in close to 30 years started to pop up. People were posting old photos of places that no longer exist [Don’t cook tonight, get Chicken Delight!] It was fun reading all the old stories. There’s a lot that’s gone over time. Like the Fotomat booth that used to be out near the foot of Noriega. Aladdin Bowl on Noriega which I always remember people complaining that the lanes were warped and of course you can’t talk about the good old days in the Sunset without a mention of the old ice skating rink out on…45th Ave was it?
Then there was the post of all people I knew as a kid who had died. It was kind of sad finding a bunch of people who’s names you haven’t heard in years only to hear more names of those that have died. But at least there’s more fun to cover the sadness.
There’s over 2300 people now in the group and it’s growing faster every day. If you want to know what it was like growing up in the Sunset amidst the fog this is a good place to go.
On a completely unrelated note, I received a tweet today from @geeksugar which is a website for techie girls that was in response to their request for the nerdiest/geekiest pick up line ever used. I guess I won with:
Sorry, I will not tell you what CHMOD 777 means if you don’t know and I didn’t realize how funny it would be until my cellphone started vibrating off the table with all the retweets. I’ve finally come up with something that’s gone viral. Let’s see how far it goes now.
So according to the weather service San Francisco could possibly be hit by snow Friday or Saturday. Lot’s of people are up in arms because for a lot of people who have been here for awhile don’t know what to do. Let me give you a little hint. Do nothing. Look at the picture to the left, that’s what snow in San Francisco will be perceived at by many. They’ll poke it with a stick and go about their workday.
I fondly remember the four inches of snow that came down in 1976. It was a really cold winter that year, much colder than we’ve had this year. I even remember getting up in the mornings and water that had condensed on your car was frozen solid frequently. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen that here, but I ain’t seen it once this year or last.
Just to refresh your memories if you were here in 1976, I was woken up by my Grandmother who pulled me outside in my underwear to show me the snow. Well, she was of German decent, so maybe it was more like she pushed me out in the snow. This warranted a return fire of a snowball that caused much yelling headed my way for mucking up the house with…snow. When the time came to go to school I was walking down to A. P. Giannini Junior High and there was no snow on the streets, maybe a touch on the sidewalks, but you would mostly find it on people’s bushes and grass.
When I got to the school everyone was out in front having snowball fights because that’s the only place we had any grass at the school. Note to everyone, this was a time period when people didn’t have to clean up after their dogs so some of the snowballs were more like “poopsicles.” Just keep this in mind if you get any ideas of throwing a snowball if it snows in the next few days.
School starts and we’re all excited because, well, it’s SNOW, in SAN FRANCISCO! Most of us weren’t paying attention that day to the teachers as we were too busy looking out the windows at the snow falling…IN SAN FRANCISCO! Good things have to come to an end though and when it was time for lunch a few of us snuck outside the gates to play in the snow only to realize, it was gone. Our few minutes of west coast urban dwelling in the snow was gone.
San Francisco is a beast when it comes to weather. Sure, we can have torrential downpours, but those are rare and rarely last more than a few hours before the powers that be push the rotten weather back north and just let us lounge around in our bad weather that we get.
Moving forward in time to 1986 I was working down in North Beach and from the third story of the building I was working in we noticed snowfall…AGAIN! We all ran down the stairs to stand out in the snow only to find that at ground level all we saw was a bit of fog. We ran back up to the third floor…snow…back down…fog. Snow will never beat us because of the heat generated by the smugness of the people of San Francisco. If you live in fear of snow in San Francisco take a day off work and sit in your window with the best view and sip a nice warm hot buttered rum, or you can be uber-San Francisco and run out in the snow naked with flowers in your hair [150lbs weight limit, please.]