When much of Humboldt awoke Feb. 23 under a blanket of fluffy, white snow the fun was palpable. Snowfriends popped up in yards from Trinidad to Southern Humboldt, while snowballs flew hither and thither. In McKinleyville, a half dozen or so kids dusted off their sleds and headed to Pierson Park, where they spent the morning shrieking down a grassy hill behind the playground.
But for those traveling — including hosts of families that had gotten away during the President's Week break from school — and the agencies tasked with keeping our roadways safe and operational, the snowfall simply wreaked havoc, forcing the California Redwood Coast-Humboldt County Airport to ground flights as two of the region's main arteries — State Route 299 and U.S. Highway 101 — were both closed entirely to traffic on multiple occasions.
With earthquakes ending 2022 and rattling in 2023, followed by atmospheric rivers and snow flurries, some on the North Coast have wondered whether Mother Nature is aligning her forces against us. But not to worry, said Jonathan Garner, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Eureka office.
Yes, the coastal snowfall was the most the region has seen since 1989, but dustings every few years aren't unheard of, the last coming in 2019.
"Snow here at sea level is pretty unusual, but it does happen every handful of years," said Garner. It's infrequent but we've definitely seen it before. This is a fairly typical winter. We've been pretty dry the last couple of winters. Perhaps we've forgotten that this is pretty normal."
In fact, the recent deluges haven't been enough to bring the North Coast fully back to average. According to National Weather Service data, we've recorded 27.4 inches of precipitation locally since Oct. 1, 0.56 inches below normal for this point in the water year, which runs Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. January was a bit wetter than normal — 0.7 inches, to be precise — but not markedly so.
Nonetheless, heavy snowfall at fairly low elevations prompted Caltrans to fully close State Route 299 on multiple occasions between Feb. 23 and Feb. 28, while downed trees and power lines caused the agency to close U.S. Highway 101 several times over the same period. The California Highway Patrol reported numerous weather-related crashes on both highways, and pleaded with residents to refrain from traveling unless absolutely necessary.
This left some local families in a lurch, including one who had traveled south to Disneyland over the break from school only to have their return flight canceled due to snow in McKinleyville on Feb. 23. They then rented a car to make the drive, only to spend a night sleeping in it in Laytonville, where U.S. Highway 101 had been closed, before driving back to San Francisco where they caught a flight home, arriving the evening of Feb. 26.
Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said deputies had rescued at least five stranded motorists whose cars had gotten stuck in snow over in recent days, telling the Journal his deputies were headed to a report of another near Weitchpec as the paper went to press Feb. 28.
Moving forward, Garner said Humboldt County could expect some "very cold" temperatures in the mid- to upper-20s March 1 through March 3, after which another storm was expected to move in over the weekend, bringing more rain and snow to higher elevations. It's nothing unusual for the area, though various agencies are encouraging folks to check road conditions and forecasts before traveling, and to carry chains if heading into areas with accumulating snow.
"Be careful out there," Garner said.
Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at (707) 442-1400, extension 321, or firstname.lastname@example.org.