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Does it Snow in San Francisco?

San Francisco is a coastal city in Northern California covering an area of 121.4 square kilometers.  The city was established in 1776 and rose to prominence during the California Gold Rush of 1849, which propelled it to become the largest city on the West Coast at the time. San Francisco currently has a population of 881,549 and is ranked as the 4th largest and 16th largest city in California and the United States. 

San Francisco is blessed with several tourist attraction sites, including the infamous Chinatown and the Golden Gate Bridge, and is also home to some household company names such as Twitter.  Given the city’s low elevation, one can’t help but wonder, does it snow in San Francisco?

San Francisco has a diverse topography and hence experiences different types of microclimates.  However, the prevailing climate in the city’s metropolitan area is the Mediterranean climate, which exhibits moist, mild winters and cool, dry summers. The climate, however, changes to continental climate as you move inland from the coast. Typically, the winter season in San Francisco runs from December to mid-March, and rainfall is the predominant precipitation.  Snowfall is rare as temperatures generally stay above freezing point.

Past instances of heavy snowfall in San Francisco

Since snowfall seldom falls on San Francisco, and when it does, barely accumulates to depths of 1 inch (25.4 millimetres), one might be tempted to rule it off as a non-snowy city. Well, you’d be wrong. The city has recorded heavy snowstorms in the past, events that left the city covered in white blankets of snow. For instance, on December 30, 1856, the heavy snowfall pelted the city and left behind an accumulation of 2.5 inches (63.5 millimeters). The following heavy snowfall fell on December 31 1882, for a straight five hours and accumulated to depths of 3.5 inches (90 millimeters).  

1887 marked another snowy winter, possibly the snowiest ever in San Francisco. On February 5, about 3.7 inches (94 millimeters) of snow was recorded in downtown San Francisco and higher depths of up to 7 inches (177.8 millimeters) in the western parts. February 5, 1971, recorded the latest heavy snowfall in San Francisco, with accumulations of up to 5 inches (130 millimeters) of snow recorded in the Twin Peaks community area.

Why is snowfall rare in San Francisco?

A few factors combine and ensure that San Francisco doesn’t receive regular and abundant snowfall as many winter sports lovers and snow revelers would have loved. Key among them is the city’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean and its high temperatures.  The warm Pacific currents bring warm conditions to the city, and despite the presence of moisture in the atmosphere, snow does not form since temperatures never get low enough. Even the snow occasional snow that falls on the city doesn’t last long on the ground as the high temperatures ensure it thaws right away.

Winter weather in San Francisco

Weather in December

December is the first month of winter in San Francisco. Average temperatures in the city range from highs of 58.6 degrees Fahrenheit (14.8 degrees Celsius) during the day and lows of 46.7 degrees Fahrenheit (8.2 degrees Celsius) at night and early mornings. Throughout the month, temperatures never breach the freezing barrier. December is a rainy month in San Francisco, and rainfall is recorded for 11 days to the tune of 3.18 inches (80.7 millimeters).

Weather in January

January is the coldest month in San Francisco and records temperatures ranging from highs of 58.1 degrees Fahrenheit (14.5 degrees Celsius) to lows of 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius). It is also the rainiest month in the city, with 4.72 inches (12 millimeters).

Weather in February

February registers an increase in temperatures from those recorded in January. Average temperatures in San Francisco for this month range from highs of 61.4 degrees Fahrenheit (16.3 degrees Celsius) to lows of 48.5 degrees Fahrenheit (9.2 degrees Celsius). The average precipitation for the month hovers around 4.15 inches (105.4 millimeters) and is predominantly made of rainfall.

Weather in March

March marks the end of the winter season in San Francisco. Ironically, despite being a winter month, March has never recorded any instance of snowfall. Generally, temperatures are higher than those in February and range from highs of 62.5 degrees Fahrenheit (16.9 degrees Celsius) to lows of 49.2 degrees Fahrenheit (9.6 degrees Celsius). Precipitation, which falls as rainfall, is still heavy and reaches 4.15 inches (10.54 millimeters) for the month.

Skiing In San Francisco

Due to the lack of snowfall, the city of San Francisco has no skiing scenery at all. However, winter sports enthusiasts need not worry as there are several ski resorts within a 3 hours’ drive from the city.

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