Why Does San Francisco, CA Rarely See Snow?

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san francisco snow
Snow in the Mission district of San Francisco, 1887. Image: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Interestingly enough, the San Francisco Ballet recently asked this question to the California Academy of Arts and Science in San Francisco: “Why does San Francisco rarely see snow?”

What’s cool is that San Francisco does get snow occasionally and there is great photographic evidence.  We nearly saw snow last week with temperatures dipping below freezing in San Francisco.

Here’s is an excerpt from SF Ballet’s article:

california snow
San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf with snow in 1939. Image: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

Snowless in San Francisco

by the San Francisco Ballet

So, why does San Francisco so rarely see snow? The answer, says the California Academy of Science’s Curator of Geology Dr. Peter Roopnarine, might surprise a city that’s affectionately mocked for its chilly climate and enveloping fogs: we just don’t get cold enough. 

San Francisco has this in common with most of the Pacific northwest coast, says Dr. Roopnarine, because the ocean controls our climate: “Land masses change temperature much more quickly than does water, and hence inland areas have more variable climate. Waters off San Francisco are cooler than air temperatures inland during summer, and as that inland air heats up, cool air is pulled in off the ocean creating our famous summer fogs. Similarly, during winter as temperatures fall inland, our ocean offshore moderates our temperature.”

snow in san francisco
Snow in the Richmond district of San Francisco, 1882. Image: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

Judging from these images of San Francisco’s past, snow in this city seems to be getting less and less frequent as the years pass. The last time San Francisco saw a “true” snowstorm was back in 1976, when a maximum of five inches fell over the city. Before that, records show significant snowfalls in 1962 and 1951, and 19th-century flurries just five years apart in 1887 and 1882. 

“If you hike, ski, or snowboard in the snow-capped mountains this season, remember that you are in one of California’s most important sources of water: annual snowpack in the Sierra Nevada provides about 30% of California’s water and 85% of the water in the Bay Area.” 

Read the full SF Ballet article here:

Snowless in San Francisco

snow san francisco, ca
The Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park in the snow in 1887. Image: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

The whole point of this SF Ballet article is to get you to go see the SF Ballet’s Nutcracker and its snow dance seen this holiday season.  We agree.  If you or your kids haven’t seen the Nutcracker live yet, it’s time.  It’s a classic and will stay in your brain forever.

Also, if you haven’t been to the California Academy of Arts and Science in San Francisco, you’re missing out.  They have an indoor snow flurries right now and live reindeer.


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3 thoughts on “Why Does San Francisco, CA Rarely See Snow?

  1. SF doesn’t get snow, hasn’t since 1976. San Jose hills on the other hand, CAN get snow. Much better chance. But even in SJ, it hasn’t snowed yet.

  2. It was nowhere near close to snowing in SF last week, nor did it dip below freezing. And SF doesn’t “rarely” get snow. It NEVER gets snow. Last time was in 1976. In 2019, it did not SNOW. There was a misunderstanding about the NWS report. While there was a wintry mix reported on Twin Peaks, the temperature was around 39, which is too warm for snow to last, so the alleged “snow” fell as raindrops.

    Where it CAN snow are the East Bay Hills, and higher up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Not SF. In fact, even San Jose has a much better chance of snow than SF.

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