Snow in America's 'heatland': The zany times it snowed in some of the country's warmest places

For those who love winter weather along parts of the coastal Northeast corridor, it must feel like snow is never coming this season, with storm after storm only bringing mostly rain to New York and Philadelphia this winter.

Snow covers the hotel at Mandalay Bay and the Luxor Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip during a rare snowstorm December 17, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Snow covers the hotel at Mandalay Bay and the Luxor Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip during a rare snowstorm December 17, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Those cities are threatening records for the latest first measurable snow of the season despite climate records that show at least some snow days are a near guarantee in the region. To add insult to injury, even Tucson, Arizona has had just as much snow (a "trace" amount) as New York this season so far through Tuesday.

Wait, Tucson? In the desert? Just as sometimes the snowy spots in the nation can have a rare season when they go without, some of America's hottest cities can have a rare season where they get a snow day. Many cities home to snowbirds and days that can reach the 80s in winter have had days in their history with snow.

It's been nearly a century, but believe it or not, Downtown Los Angeles picked up 2 inches of snow on Jan. 15, 1932.

Photos show the main area covered in white, including Hollywood. Even the beaches at Santa Monica were coated in snow, according to the National Weather Service.

1932-Hollywood, CA- Agnes Strite pointing to sign of Hollywood 4, LA 12, Hollywood in 1930s. View of side of mountains.
1932-Hollywood, CA- Agnes Strite pointing to sign of Hollywood 4, LA 12, Hollywood in 1930s. View of side of mountains.

Over a foot of snow fell in the mountains surrounding the city.

Overall, Downtown Los Angeles has recorded four days with measurable snow, though the other three were small fractions of an inch and none since 1954.

There have also been four days in San Francisco's winter history where the Bay Area was covered in snow – though none in the past several decades.

San Francisco Snow
Chronicle photographer Arthur Frisch chartered an airplane to take photos over the Bay Area when it snowed on Feb. 5 1976. Downtown Benicia is seen surrounded by snow-covered hills to the north of town.

Most snowfalls were recorded in the 19th century: Feb. 5, 1887, recorded 3.7 inches of snow in the city, while 1.5 inches were observed on Feb. 7, 1884. An inch fell on March 3, 1896.

Snow found its way into the Bay Area in 1932 as it had earlier in the year in Los Angeles, but this time it was in December, on the 11th, and measured 0.8 inches.

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The photo above from the San Francisco Chronicle shows snow out in the suburbs on Feb. 5, 1976, but neither official San Francisco reporting station recorded snowfall on that date.

Technically, San Diego has no snowfall ever recorded at their official reporting stations, but historical records indicate a mighty snow fell in the outlying areas of that part of Southern California in January 1882.

Reports said there were 4 inches along Poway Grade, 3 inches at El Cajon and an inch in the town of Poway that melted in a few hours. People in San Diego itself reported seeing snowflakes, but they did not stick.

Sin City locals will tell you that in an effort to feel cooler, they report the temperature most summer days by lopping off the '1' on frequent triple-digit days – a 108-degree day is just "8 degrees," 112 is "12 degrees" and etc.

Winter Storm Dumps Snow On Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS - DECEMBER 17: Visitors gather under the famous sign welcoming motorists on the south end of the Las Vegas Strip during a rare snowstorm December 17, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

There have been a handful of times when it really has felt freezing outside, with even some instances of measurable snow. Three stand out in particular: 1949, 1974 and 1979. Jan. 31, 1979, holds the daily record of 7.4 inches, coming on the heels of 2.4 inches that fell on the 28th.

New Year's Day in 1974 brought 4.4 inches, to be followed up by another 4.3 and 4.7 inches on Jan. 4 and 5. But 1949 must have truly felt surreal. The first month of that year featured six days with measurable snow spread out over two weeks, with 3.3 inches falling on Jan. 10 and 4.7 inches falling on Jan. 25.

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Overall the city has had 23 days with at least an inch of snow, most recently 3.6 inches on Dec. 17, 2008.

Phoenix has had measurable snow just three times in its recorded history, and two of them came on back-to-back days during a massive West Coast arctic outbreak in Dec. 1990.

The city received 0.2 inches of snow on both Dec. 21 and Dec. 22 in 1990. And just 0.1 inches was observed on Dec. 11, 1985.

On the other hand, Phoenix's heat neighbor to the south gets snow a little more often, but certainly don't call it "frequent."

Tucson area snow
Winter snow and low-lying clouds grace the Sonoran Desert with unexpected beauty, Carnegiea gigantea or Cereus giganteus, Saguaro cactus in foreground, Tucson Mountains, Tucson, Arizona, USA, Digital (Photo by via Getty Images)

Tucson has had 69 days with measurable snow since records began in 1894 and 22 days with at least 2 inches or more.

Their snowiest day was 6.8 inches on Dec. 8, 1971, and the desert stalwart even has two official white Christmases: 4 inches in 1916 and 2.6 inches in 1987.

Their most recent measurable snow was 2 inches on Jan. 26, 2021 – though they got close on Monday, registering a trace of snowfall.

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Death Valley in the deserts of California is officially the hottest place in the world, holding the World Record for hottest temperature recorded on Earth at 134 degrees set in July 1913, though there is still some controversy over the accuracy of the record. But there have been multiple reliable readings of 129 and 130 degrees in the years' since. So let's agree it's a hot place.

But it's even snowed there too, at least once. Official records note 0.5 inches of snowfall on Jan. 29, 1922 and records go back to 1911.

However, did you know a snowstorm in the Death Valley area in the 1800s is how it received its morbid name?

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Houston's current record books show minimal snow events, with only nine days of measurable snowfall at the Intercontinental Airport dating back to 1969; the record was a paltry 2 inches on Jan. 11, 1973.

Houston snow in 2021
A boy walks up a snow covered hill after sledding down it in a box in Houston, Texas on February 15, 2021.

The Houston area has seen more significant snows outside the official measuring stations, none more impactful than the massive snow on Valentine's Day in 1895. A whopping 19 inches of snow fell on Feb. 14, with another inch on Feb. 15, according to Jimmy Fowler, a meteorologist at the Houston/Galveston National Weather Service office.

More than a century later, much of the area would get a white Christmas in 2004 when a narrow band of heavy snow moved in the night of Christmas Eve, bringing 9-12 inches around Victoria and Edna, with 6 inches in Angleton and 4 inches on the beach in Galveston but much of the snow missed the airport measuring spot.

The "Big Easy" can usually be relied on for ice- and snow-free commutes, but there have been exceptions.

New Orleans Snow
Snow falls on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar on December 11, 2008 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The last time it snowed in New Orleans was 2004, and the city has only experienced measurable amounts of snow 17 times since 1850.

New Orleans has experienced 17 winters with measurable snow since 1852, the heaviest being 5 inches on Feb. 14, 1895 – matching the date of that epic Houston snowstorm. The city would get 3.2 inches the next day, and Feb. 15 still stands as the latest date with measurable snow in town.

New Orleans has even had snow on Christmas - a half-inch in 2004; also matching a big snow event in Houston, but fell short of the inch needed to count as an official white Christmas. The last measurable snow was Dec. 11, 2008 (1 inch).

When those in Miami awoke on Jan. 19, 1977, they had to wonder if they had suddenly been transported to the North as snow was falling outside – the first and only time snow has been recorded in Miami's history and the farthest south snow had been observed in Florida.

An arctic front swept south through the entire state, briefly dropping temperatures into the upper 20s to low 30s around South Florida. West Palm Beach set its all-time record low of 27 degrees, while Fort Lauderdale (28 degrees) and Miami Beach (31 degrees) did the same.

The snow only lasted a few hours but was enough for a brief minor accumulation in some spots. However, the observer at Miami International Airport – the official weather station for Miami – did not record any snowfall, but an asterisk was appended to the daily climate report noting the widespread reports of snow that morning.

While snow in South Florida is nearly impossible, northern Florida has had a dabble or two with it.

Jacksonville has had measurable snow thrice in its history, including 0.8 inches on Dec. 23, 1989.

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The only two other times came on Feb. 13: 1.9 inches in 1899 and 1.5 inches in 1958 – meaning the second-greatest snow on record in the city didn't even set a daily snowfall record.

If you're curious, Tampa has only had two official days with snowfall – both barely measurable: That same Feb. 13 in 1899 with Jacksonville's snow (Tampa only recorded 0.1 inches) and 0.2 inches on the same day as Miami's lone snow event on Jan. 19, 1977 (though some reports indicated as much as 2 inches in parts of the Tampa area).

Orlando's snow records are bare, but data only goes back to 1948.

Oh, come on, it can't have snowed in Hawaii?

Snowboarding in Hawaii
07 January 2009: Unidentified Snowboarder in Hawaii atop of 13, 755 ft Mauna Kea mountain on Hawaii's 'Big Island' where a winter storm had deposited more than two feet of snow.

Sure, the luxurious and sprawling beach resorts have been safely snow free since the dawn of Hawaiian weather records – the coldest temperature ever recorded in Honolulu was 52 degrees set in January 1969. But there are some rather tall mountains on the Big Island that get snow during the winter.

HAWAII PUMMELED WITH NEAR-BLIZZARD CONDITIONS JUST A WEEK AFTER MAUNA LOA'S ERUPTION SIMMERS

There have even been occasional Blizzard and Winter Storm warnings for some of Hawaii's tallest peaks!