One of the coldest winter storms in a decade is headed toward San Luis Obispo County, bringing with it the chance for snow along mountaintops and even in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo.
If snow flurries appear in San Luis Obispo, it would be the first time since 1976, said local forecaster John Lindsey. It also would be short-lived: “There won’t be any accumulations.’’
Other places in the county that typically see a snowfall at least once every winter, such as Creston, also stand a good chance this time around.
Motorists will have to be aware of possible snowy conditions as they drive over the Cuesta Grade, as snow is expected at the 1,500-foot summit.
Much of the storm’s rain is expected to fall today, as highs settle in the low 50s, Lindsey said. By the time the coldest air arrives Saturday morning, the storm system will be packing less moisture.
Forecasters are looking at snow possibilities beginning tonight and continuing into early Saturday.
The overnight low in Paso Robles will be 32 degrees, with the snow level dropping to an elevation of 700 feet, according to the National Weather Service. The chance of snow will continue until 10 a.m. Saturday, when it will warm up enough for any snow to change to rain, the weather service said.
In San Luis Obispo, the overnight low will be 36 degrees, and the snow level could drop to 500 feet by Saturday morning, meaning some of the higher points around town — like Islay Hill, Cerro San Luis, Bishops Peak and Prefumo Canyon — might get a dusting.
The storm is moving down the West Coast from British Columbia.
“(Today) and Saturday are shaping up to be very interesting as the coldest storm in at least a decade moves through the area,” the weather service said in a forecast discussion.
Saturday’s high temperature will reach only the mid-40s in San Luis Obispo and the high 30s in the North County, the National Weather Service said.
Temperatures will rise Sunday back into the 50s under sunny skies.
But the prediction of freezing cold Saturday night has area avocado growers preparing to protect their orchards.
Worried about avocados
“Most growers this time of the year, any time we get a cold snap — we’re very worried about it,” said Mark Moore, co-owner of Mike Cavaletto Ranches in the Nipomo area, which grows 300 acres of Haas avocados and lemons.
Alan Cavaletto, avocado grove manager at Morro Creek Ranch off Highway 41 near Morro Bay, said all of agriculture is worried about the upcoming freeze. He is worried that the freeze will kill the abundant blooms that have emerged early this winter year due to unusually warm and spring-like weather a few weeks ago. Because the buds and blooms will become next year’s crop, a freeze this year could drastically affect both this and next year’s yields.
Cavaletto said cold is not the only enemy — another is the duration of the chill. Temperatures of 28 degrees for one hour may be manageable, but four hours of such temperatures could be devastating for a crop, he said.
The growers will try to minimize frost by turning on large wind machines to push warmer air from above the orchard down around the avocado trees. Growers will also water trees with 50- to 60-degree water.
Avocado farmers on the coast typically buy crop insurance only for catastrophic losses, as opposed to inland growers who buy more expensive premiums, Cavaletto said.
He will be up all night during the forecasted frosts, drinking coffee as he monitors the 225 acres of Haas avocados he manages. However, he said it takes a few months after a freeze to assess whether the damage was superficial or complete. It is possible that damaged crops can bloom again.
Central Coast catches cold
Forecasts for tonight’s low and Saturday’s high for SLO County’s seven cities:
San Luis Obispo, 36, 43
Paso Robles, 32, 39
Atascadero, 32, 38
Morro Bay, 49, 54
Pismo Beach, 36, 43
Grover Beach, 36, 43
Arroyo Grande, 36, 43