by Derryl Dumermuth
Tulareans transplanted from the midwest especially appreciate the Valley's winter weather, for although we do experience a little fog, we don't have to shovel it. Blizzards that pile snowdrifts as high as a house, and temperatures that plummet to 20 below, are thankfully unknown in the San Joaquin Valley.
Snow in Tulare is a rare, but not unknown, occurrence. Early settlers were probably very surprised when after suffering through another scorching summer, the white stuff began to fall from the sky. The exact date has proved to be elusive, but Lizzie Wood, whose parents were among Tulare's first pioneers, recalled many years later that this first snowstorm in Tulare's history happened sometime in the early 1890's.
Small amounts of snow, often mixed with sleet or hail, have fallen in Tulare from time to time. But the storm that visited the city on Monday, January 22, 1962 is the one that is remembered with the most clarity by the 15,000 residents living in the city at that time. As much as five inches accumulated on the ground, but there was no drifting - there was no wind, and the snow was too wet to drift anyway. Ranchers rejoiced at the unexpected moisture, and school children celebrated when classes were cancelled because of snow for the first time in the history of the school. Hundreds of snowmen sprouted on lawns throughout town. The Advance-Register was swamped with calls suggesting that the newspaper's photographer should be sent to their address. Drug stores soon ran out of film - one businessman called it the "biggest film boom in Tulare's history". On Monday the low temperature dropped to 30 degrees, the high rose to 33 - the lowest high temperature recorded since records were kept in 1922. Outside of Tulare the Ridge Route over the Tehachapi Mountains was closed for a time and 29 inches of fresh snow was measured at Giant Forest in Sequoia. Drivers unaccustomed to driving on snow, or slush turned to ice, were involved in numerous accidents - five in the area resulting in fatalities. Old-timers Dr. Bob Young, Ransom Jones, William Zumwalt, Bob Rounsaville and Bill Anderson were interviewed by an Advance-Register reporter. Each had lived in Tulare from 50 to 75 years and could recall nothing like it.
Thirty-seven years later Tulare missed having a white Christmas by exactly one month. Snow began falling at 3:00 a.m. on Monday January 25, 1999 and continued until nearly noon. The very wet and heavy snow accumulated to a depth of four inches. Tree limbs and power lines were down all over town leaving many neighborhoods without electricity. Once again, to the delight of area students, classes were cancelled - they were not nearly so gleeful when they found out that the missed day must be made up later in the year.
Refugees from colder climes who really miss snowy days, can have their hankering for real winter weather satisfied just 40 miles to the east, in the Sierras. Skiers and other winter sports enthusiasts can often find perfect conditions, where snow at times accumulates up to 40 feet. But far more important, the melting Sierra snowpack provides much of the irrigation water that makes the Central Valley the most productive agricultural area in the world.
Derryl Dumermuth is a retired TUHS mathematics teacher, author of "A Town Called Tulare", and co-author with his wife Wanda of "Tulare Legends and Trivia from A to Z". Both books were written as fund-raisers for the Tulare Historical Museum and can be purchased in the Museum's gift shop.
1. Snow at the Linder Mansion. January 22, 1962 photo.
2. Snow at the Tulare United Methodist Church. January 25, 1999 photo.
3. Snow in Tyler Park. 1999 photo.