Tustin seems to get snow every century

Children surrounding their snowman in 1949

Recent pounding rain followed by a thick blanket of snow covering Santiago Peak and the surrounding mountains with temperatures that make you shiver and shake have had some folks wondering if it ever snows in Tustin.

Old timers aren’t speculating. They know the answer. Yes, indeed, it certainly has snowed in Tustin. Twice as a matter of fact. The first snow fall was recorded in the winter of 1881 while Tustin was still a small village. The next time it snowed was in the 20th century: Jan. 11, 1949, to be exact.

I missed that phenomena because I was away at school, but my mother filled me in on all the details. Since she was born about 20 years too late for the first snow in Tustin, she was in a state of euphoria when she awoke to see snow in the backyard. From her excitement, I anticipated that she would tell me that great drifts of snow covered the roads and orchards.

To my disappointment, she described a storm that left snow that could barely be measured in inches. White patches covered the driveway, and the shrubbery was frosted like a flocked Christmas tree. The orange trees and the smudge pots were dusted with snow, but, all in all, you had to work hard to gather enough snow to make a decent snowman.

The sun, which soon penetrated the clouds, melted the white stuff into muddy slush, except in the shade, but not before people grabbed their Kodaks and preserved visions of snow in Tustin for posterity. Family albums contained black and white photos of snow covering lawns and streets as well as bundled up children scraping together enough snow for a snowball or a snowman.

Areas on higher ground, such as Lemon Heights, had more generous coverage than the flat lands of Tustin, five inches in some locales. The Santa Ana Register, as the Orange County Register was named in those days, had pages of beautiful pictures showing the miracle of snow throughout the Santa Ana Valley. Old Saddleback, as Santiago Peak is commonly called, rose into the sky at a height of 5,691 feet like a giant marshmallow sundae.

The air was crisp and cold, colder than the usual subfreezing weather when smudge pots were lit to protect the trees, and puddles and bird baths froze like miniature ice rinks. Agriculture experts claimed that the snow covering the trees protected the Valencias, which would ripen in the spring and the already ripe Navels from freezing.

Now some 60 years later we are surrounded by snow, but it is inaccessible or at least two hours away. Snow enthusiasts, skiers and snow boarders, are taking chains for their vehicles and heading for the nearby ski resorts. The rest of us are enjoying the beautiful views of the snow covered mountains while we are outside and thankfully hovering near the fire when we are inside.

Happy New Year!

(Originally published about 2009 in the Tustin News. Reprinted with permission courtesy of Southern California News Group/The Orange County Register.)