There are few things as soothing as desert snow, the rough and spiky landscape smoothed over by a layer of frozen flakes. That’s exactly what happened this week in Joshua Tree National Park after an extremely powerful storm ripped across the region.
To get snow in this corner of the Mojave Desert, you need two things normally in short supply for the region: cold temperatures and precipitation. The former isn’t super rare. The average low in Joshua Tree during the winter months dip to near freezing, and the parts of the park in higher elevations get even colder. Precipitation, on the other hand, is tougher to find. The park averages a little less than 5.5 inches of precipitation in a year making it one of the driest places in the U.S. So, basically, getting snow in Joshua Tree is like rolling snake eyes.
And that’s exactly what the weather delivered this week thanks to a strong low-pressure system dropping out of the Gulf of Alaska. That provided the requisite frigid air (because Alaska) and precipitation (because gulf moisture) to bring a healthy helping of snow. The storm system set up camp off the Southern California coast and sent precipitation bands spiraling inland.
The National Weather Service station just outside Joshua Tree recorded 1.23 inches of precipitation over a 24-hour period starting on Thursday into Friday, though it didn’t report snowfall totals. But videos and photos from in and around the park show a healthy blast of snow. Heavy flakes ensconced the park’s namesake trees and cacti that dot the desert, softening the Flintstones-esque landscape into something that looks more like Frozen.
Elsewhere in Southern California, the weather was equally ridiculous. Barstow, California, set a December record with 1.76 inches of precipitation. In the high elevations of the San Bernardino Mountains, the snow totals were absolutely ridiculous with up to 36 inches of snow falling there. And in Ventura, the National Weather Service is investigating a tornado that touched down on Thursday.
The system has started to clear out of Southern California, but it’s nowhere near done. Winter storm watches and warnings are up across parts of Arizona and New Mexico. Up to a foot of snow could fall in the mountains. Even low-elevation cities are under winter weather advisories including Tucson where the foothills could see up to three inches of snow. Ditto for Saguaro National Park where chances of snow are 100 percent, according to the National Weather Service, meaning it could join Joshua Tree as another park with snow in weird places.