Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, you get used to a few things, namely that the weather can turn on a dime. A foggy, overcast day can turn warm and sunny by mid-noon but by sunset the fog rolls back in again. Temperatures can vary so wildly throughout the bay––or even in San Francisco itself!––that you have to dress for all kinds of weather if you’re commuting. I’ve lived here all my life and I ought to be used to it, but I’m still taken aback by how unpredictable the weather can be here. Still there are some things you can set your clock by. For instance, summers in Northern California appear during late spring, a few weeks before Memorial Day, scorching the area with a heatwave that can last for two or three days before the natural air conditioning we’ve been blessed with blows in and cools the temperatures down. Our actual summers tend to be mild, though they can be bitingly cold in San Francisco––Mark Twain wasn’t joking when he wrote that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. Julys are the coldest, with overcast days outnumbering warm ones (we always worry here whether fog or low cloud cover will ruin Fourth of July fireworks). By late August, however, the weather turns warm again, lasting well into October, with temperatures rising to the 70s or 80s, before, by Halloween, the weather cools down once more.
Ask any Californian and they’ll tell you that there are only two seasons here: dry and wet. Rain falls periodically for seven months, while the rest of the year is dry as a bone. Sometimes the rain doesn’t fall and we’re forced to rely on the melted snow packs that stream down from the Sierra Mountains. If the snow isn’t deep enough, well, then there’s drought, and from drought comes water conservation and wild fires.
Yet as predictable as the weather can be here, there are still moments of surprise. Occasionally we’ll have weird weather phenomenon: There was a twister once just outside my home! Sure, it was mild and certainly not big enough to merit even a mention on the local news, but it did rip some branches off the tree in the yard. Frost was more likely, and as close to snow as we ever got, with our yards glistening in the early morning sunlight. Yet there were times when it did snow in the bay, sometimes blanketing the peaks of Mts. Diablo and Tamalpais, or even, as recent as 2011, sprinkling light powder in parts of San Francisco. Yet I recall one time, many years ago, when it got so cold it started to snowflake!
I don’t live in San Francisco, but in Richmond, just along the edge of the bay, in the lowlands surrounded by hills dotted with homes. Except that one mild twister, we rarely get freak weather phenomenon here (or any major natural disasters, outside of earthquakes, for that matter), so that long-ago winter afternoon sticks out in my mind. I was walking home from school with my mom and younger brother, when, quite unexpectedly, snowflakes began to fall from the gunmetal sky. My brother shouted and pointed to them, while I gaped in awe. For a minute, it seemed unreal, like something out of a dream. The flakes were large and well-formed and drifted in their own pattern before falling to the ground where they melted.
My mom hustled us home as soon as she could. Being a natural-born Californian, she has a deep distrust of winter. She sees the cold weather as a burden she must endure, however begrudgingly. Even now she’ll fret over thunder storms or any of her kids, however grown, stepping inappropriately dressed into the cold weather. So that afternoon she wasn’t about to let my brother and me stay outside to enjoy this unexpected meteorological treat. Once inside, my brother and I raced to the den and watched the snowflakes from the big patio window. They were so beautiful and fragile and elusive. I felt a little sad when they disappeared into the ground. In Richmond, the bad news sometimes overwhelm the good ones, and something as magical and exciting as snowflakes rarely if ever happen, so I wanted to hold onto that moment as long as I could. I didn’t simply want to believe such things were possible, but that they could happen. I suppose the reasons why I love the cold weather is because a part of me still hopes one day it will happen again, that it will get so cold snowflakes will drift delicately and wondrously down from the sky.