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Santa Clarita Outdoor Report:  Melting Snow

Santa Clarita Outdoor Report: Melting Snow

I’m not sure I can ask this question without smirking just a bit:  Cold enough for you?  That’s because I went to college in Minnesota; in St. Paul, the average temperature in December ranges from 27 (high) to 12 (low).  But last week, I discovered something that dimmed that smirk just a bit.  Something I thought I knew about snow was WRONG!

As a child, I used to explore the open meadows and the forests surrounding our neighborhood in Wisconsin.  And I observed first-hand  that snow melts faster in open areas than it does in the woods.  My father and mother-in-law knew that 70 years ago – they knew exactly where to find the slightly-warm snow that packed into the best snowballs.

Photo: A sailor on leave in New York City, ~ 1943.  They were married in 1945.

Here’s what the Univeristy of Washington has to say about sunlight, shade and snowmelt:  “Common sense says that the shade of a tree will help retain snow, and snow exposed to sunlight in open areas will melt. This typically is the case in regions where winter temperatures are below freezing, such as the Northeast, Midwest and most of central and eastern Canada.”

But in Mediterranean ecosystem climates areas such as the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, “where the average winter temperatures usually are above 30 degrees Fahrenheit – a different phenomenon occurs. Snow tends to melt under the tree canopy and stay more intact in open meadows or gaps in a forest.”


Photo: Mt. Whitney in the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Why is this?  Researchers say, “This happens in part because trees in warmer, maritime forests radiate heat in the form of long-wave radiation to a greater degree than the sky does. Heat radiating from the trees contributes to snow melting under the canopy first.”

Photo: Eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains

So it looks like my common sense needs a bit of revising, as least as far as sunlight, shade and rate of snowmelt in our Sierra Nevada mountains goes.  Reminds me of a quote attributed to Josh Billings:  “The trouble ain’t what people don’t know, it’s what they know that ain’t so.”


To see more:  Here’s a video that describes how researchers have been measuring air and ground temperature and snowpack in the Cedar River watershed, in the Cascade mountains, 30 miles east Seattle.


Upcoming Outdoor Events: 

Trail Maintenance Schedule.  Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails.  Contact Steve at for time and place.

Wednesday mornings, December 4, 11, & 18
Saturday mornings, December 7 & 21.

Saturday, December 21, 8-10 AM.  TowsleyCanyon. Bird Holiday Habitats.  Right in time for many local holiday bird counting festivities, discover the variety of bird families around us, how they interact and their habitats. Beginners are welcome on this easy walk. Binoculars optional. Meet at the Towsley Canyon front parking lot.

2014 PlaceritaCanyon Wild Flower Calendar.  Looking for a unique and local gift?  For $10, the Docents and Volunteers at PlaceritaCanyonNatureCenter are offering a calendar filled with original photos of local wild flowers.  Best of all, your purchase will help support the fine work of the PlaceritaCanyonNatureCenter. They are available at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center Gift Shop.

New trail maps available.  If you’d like to explore a bit on your own, the City of Santa Clarita has a website with trail maps of our local open spaces.

There’s also a new website for bicycle riders.  

Ask Dr. Norm:  Do you have questions about the flora, fauna, animals, rocks, etc. in our Santa Clarita Valley?  Here’s a place for you to ask your questions. Dr. Norman Herr, Ph.D., is a professor of science and computer education at CaliforniaStateUniversity, Northridge.

Tell Us About Your Hike: Here’s a new website where you can post pictures, provide feedback and make suggestions about the City of Santa Clarita’s trails and open spaces.


You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The SCV Outdoor Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

For the complete MRCA hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, click here or go to    

Or check out our Facebook page  – L.A. Mountains.

Source: Santa Clarita News

Santa Clarita Outdoor Report: Melting Snow

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