Wednesday, Dec 18 2013 06:00 AM

Pen in Hand: First snowstorm of the season an unusually cold one

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There were plenty of icicles in the aftermath of this storm. On this eave, a little ice sheet even conformed to the shape of the wood grain in the weathered fascia board.

High winds caused lots of drifting snow on December 7, swirling around this old wagon wheel.

Bitterly cold temperatures caused ice crystals to form on my windshield, looking like a mixture of miniature lightning bolts and snowflakes.

You know there have been high winds when the icicles are bent. Strong westerly winds caused this icicle to form with a noticeable bend to the east.

The Sterling family's horses on Cherry Lane were ready for their morning hay following the storm.

All was quiet and serene looking north from the area of Walgreens and City Slickers towards Tehachapi Eastside Cemetery, since ice closed Highway 58 for many hours.

Rabbits tracks are a common feature after a snowstorm, with the larger hind feet making noticeably larger prints than the smaller front feet.

The first snowstorm of the year blew into Tehachapi on December 7, part of an arctic cold front that eventually lowered temperatures all across the U.S. The frigid storm resulted in Tehachapi's Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting being postponed a week for perhaps the first time in its history. The decision to delay the parade a week was based on safety more than comfort: with the roads icy, Highway 58 closed, intense winds and a wind chill factor all the way down to the single digits, officials weren't interested in having to treat parade participants and spectators for hypothermia and frostbite.

The cold air came in and settled for a few days, making the snow last as nighttime temperatures dropped to as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit on the valley floor and even colder at some of the higher elevations. As the week started with many roads still coated with snow that had turned to ice, classes in the Tehachapi Unified School District were called off and even some businesses stayed closed.

Although the aftermath may have been inconvenient for some people, any storms that bring moisture to California are welcome at this point, with the entire state experiencing drought and Kern County categorized as being in "extreme drought."

This storm also provided a great tutorial, especially to newer residents of the Tehachapi Mountains, on the significance of temperatures to the duration of the snow -- many people focus on the depth of a snowfall, but really it is the accompanying temperatures that determine how epic a snowstorm will be. We can have a larger snowfall in the spring, for example, with six to eight inches of snow, but the warmer temperatures mean that it will start melting almost as soon as it stops falling and it has little effect on people's day-to-day lives.

Or we can have a storm like this one, with only about four inches of snow, but temperatures in the teens means that it lasts for days with many effects: those with horses or other animals have to haul water to them as outside faucets are frozen solid, schools are cancelled for several days because of ice, etc.

With 2013 almost over and looking to go down as the driest year in 164 years of record keeping in the state, I hope this is only the first of many storms this coming season. I wouldn't mind if they were a bit warmer, however -- maybe we need another visit from an El Nino weather pattern. . .

Have a good week.

Jon Hammond has written for the Tehachapi News for over 30 years. Send email to:

Photos by John Hammond

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