People, Places and Things

Snow in Santa Barbara

Over the years we’ve heard stories about the day a snowstorm hit Santa Barbara, but until recently we’d never spoken to anyone with a first hand account. Last week while talking with a SB native and Edhat subscriber, we got the scoop and dates of the storm. This made our research pretty simple. But we have only been able to round-up a few images of the snowstorm of 1949, all of which were published in the Santa Barbara News-Press. We are certain that other photos exist in old photo albums or on the walls of homes throughout town, and […]

Over the years we’ve heard stories about the day a snowstorm hit Santa Barbara, but until recently we’d never spoken to anyone with a first hand account. Last week while talking with a SB native and Edhat subscriber, we got the scoop and dates of the storm. This made our research pretty simple. But we have only been able to round-up a few images of the snowstorm of 1949, all of which were published in the Santa Barbara News-Press. We are certain that other photos exist in old photo albums or on the walls of homes throughout town, and we want to see them! We also want to hear stories about the 1949 event and earlier snow storms that reportedly hit town in 1939 and 1872.

Our historian friend and fellow Edhatter told us she recalled the day she woke up to snow blanketing her front yard and the nearby barn, in the vicinity of Miramar Beach. She recollected the excitement of the morning, knowing that snow this close to town was a once in a lifetime event. She also recalled that the storm occurred for two or three days in early January 1949, and that perhaps the most remarkable sight of all was seeing Santa Cruz Island covered in snow.

In fact the storm lasted from January 9th through January 11th in 1949. The News-Press called it “the heaviest snowstorm ever in Santa Barbara” and ran a headline “Area Blanketed from Mountains to Water’s Edge; Mission White”. For three days the paper covered the story and ran photos, including these images.


This was taken on W. Victoria Street after the afternoon snowstorm on January 11th.


The Mission, the morning of January 12th. The paper reported that two young boys on sleds were seen sledding down the slope of the mission lawn.


Girls in a snowball fight on Tunnel Road, during the two and a half hour afternoon January 11th on . You have to love the plastic coat over the one young woman’s daywear.


This house still looks much the same – it’s on Mission Canyon, (on the left ) as you head toward Foothill Road. On this day, there were 3 inches of snow reported at the Botanic Gardens, not far up the road from this place.


This photo, showing who we suspect is Audrey Ovington, was taken at Cold Springs Tavern on the first day of the storm.

On January 9, 1949, Sunday morning’s News-Press warned residents of the impending cold snap about to engulf Southern California.

The next day New-Press reported 2 -3 inches of snow had fallen in Painted Cave. They also noted that the high recorded on January 10th was a chilly 47 degrees.

In the January 11th evening edition of the SB News-Press, there were reports of snow in Mission Canyon, and snow had been falling for the third straight day in the backcountry. The high on January 11th was reported 46 degrees, and more snow was predicted, much to the dismay of the area’s citrus growers. The newspaper told of the effects of the storm in Los Angeles and how Santa Barbara, with just a dusting downtown, and just an inch or so on the Mesa and in Mission Canyon, had gotten “the tail end of the worst snow storm in Southern California history”.

That day, the paper also told that at Carpinteria High School, teachers were compelled to let students out for extra recess because “keeping order in the classrooms” was impossible. 2 inches of snow was recorded in the flatlands of Carp, which as far as anyone could remember was a first. We recall that about five years ago, one of the taquerias in Carpinteria had photos of the snowstorm on the wall of the restaurant, but when we returned recently the photos had been replaced with other art.

The January 11th edition of the News-Press also reported that Santa Cruz Island looked “like a big iceberg”, and one reporter spoke with someone who’s friend or family member recalled a similar storm in 1872 which had blanketed the Santa Barbara Old Mission.

By January 13th, a Thursday, the weather reports were calling for nearly normal temperatures by the weekend. It was reported that 8 inches of snow had fallen at Juncal Dam in the backcountry; Santa Cruz Island, which got 4 inches of snow, was completely blanketed from the mountain peaks all the way to the shore; and that 4 inches of snow remained at Los Prietos Ranger Station. The big snowstorm of ’49 had caused San Marcos Pass to be closed and had led to over 1000 cars being stranded on the Gaviota Pass/Nojoqui Grade. And yet this event was just a flash in the pan, because in a span of just several days Santa Barbara went from winter wonderland back to good old temperate Southern California. Who knows, with concerns about global warming and all, if we’ll ever see snow fall in downtown Santa Barbara again…or if the Channel Islands will ever transform into faux icebergs again. We sure hope so, but in the meantime, if you have stories or photos of snow in Santa Barbara send them in to Edhat so we can post and preserve this fun and interesting tidbit of local history!

As always we encourage you to go out and explore our marvelous town on foot, keep your eyes, ears and minds open to all that you encounter, and above all, expect the unexpected.

Send your Santa Barbara snow photos to ed@edhat.com

About Peter Hartmann and Stacey Wright

We are two "fifty-something" year olds who are lifetime residents of Santa Barbara. Together, we have decided to walk each and every street within the City limits of Santa Barbara just for the fun of it. Peter is a dentist, and Stacey is a long-time County employee who helps the elderly without family to look after them. Read more

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