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Pen in Hand: Spring snow in Tehachapi: fact or fiction?

Jan 13, 2024

Tehachapi weather can exhibit so many different patterns, during the same seasons, from one year to the next. It's not always easy to summarize or describe.

For example, this past winter was wetter than usual, certainly with more moisture than we’ve had in recent years, and it produced record-setting snow in California's mountains. Areas of Central California experienced tremendous flooding and Tulare Lake reappeared.

On the other hand, here in Tehachapi we didn't really have much flooding. Those of us who were here during the El Niño year of 1982-83 can remember when so many Tehachapi roads were damaged and closed, and there was so much destruction. That didn't happen for us this year.

Also, while this winter and spring were colder than usual, they didn't produce record-setting low temperatures — it was consistently cool or cold, but lows didn't dip below 20 degrees Fahrenheit more than a few times, and never hit single digits or anything that extreme.

And as wet as the winter was, we didn't have much moisture in spring. Some years we actually get most of our precipitation in March and April, even into May, but this year April was cool but mostly fair with little rain or snow.

Tehachapi oldtimers talk about snowstorms in the spring. So does it really ever snow in April in the Tehachapi Mountains? I’m glad you asked: yes, it definitely does.

The record for April snow was set way back in 1967, when April brought a whopping 33 inches of snow onto the Tehachapi Valley floor, and more in the mountains. The second place April record was set in 1967, when 20 inches of snow fell. In 1998 there was 11 inches, and as recently as 2001 there was a total of 7 inches measured in April.

And more recently, there have been smaller storms that still brought some April snow. Accompanying this column are photos that I took of an April snowstorm about a decade ago. One morning I happened to photograph some planters and hanging pots at our place, as they were blossoming with cheerful spring color in the form of pansies and other flowers.

Then a light spring snowstorm came through, and an hour later the flowers had been heavily dusted with snow. It was fully into the spring season, the grass was green and getting tall, flowers were all abloom, and then winter reappeared and put a gentle coating of snow on everything.

Caltrans even had to do snow and slush removal on Highway 58, and I’ve included a photo of the inside a storage building, located out by the freeway, which is used to store sand. With snowflakes in the air, a front-end loader is being used to transfer sand into a state dump truck to trickle it onto the roadway to help melt the snow.

There have even been the occasional May snowfalls, though they are rare, of course. The record May snowfall was in 1930, when there was seven inches measured. There was three inches of snow recorded in 1953, two inches in 1951 and as recently as 1973, there was two and one-half inches of snow that fell in May.

So spring snowstorms in Tehachapi are not mere lore and legend. Unlike the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, there are plenty of good clear photographs of snow that fell here in April or May. It hasn't happened in the past few years, but it will again.

Have a good week.

Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 40 years. Send email to [email protected].

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