Simanaitis Says

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I WAS RAISED IN CLEVELAND and spent undergrad years in Worcester, Massachusetts. So snow is nothing new to me. Indeed, it’s where I learned about not just drifting snow, but drifting a car as well. Here are tidbits prompted by Southern California making nationwide snow news. 

Words for the Stuff. Virginia Virino writes in Pangeanic, “Inuit Words for Snow: Are There Really 50?” She says, “The idea was first put out in the 1880s by an anthropologist called Franz Boas during his expedition to northern Canada to study the life of the local Inuit people. He went on to claim that the Eskimos had hundreds of words for snow, including aqilokoq, which means softly falling snow and piegnartoq, for snow that is good for sleds. However, over the years, many linguists have branded this the Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and dismissed his claims.”

“This was not the end of the controversy, though,” Virino writes. She cites research in the last decade suggesting the Inuit and Yupik dialects do indeed have a multiplicity of snow words. As do the Sami people of northern Scandinavia and the Scots. The Scots “have 421 terms to describe their country’s wintery conditions, including snaw (snow), sneesl (to begin to rain or snow) and skelf (a large snowflake).” 

Graupel. I’ve learned another variation from local SoCal news: “Graupel” is the official name for tiny snowballs that form around snowflakes as they pass through clouds. KTLA 5 describes, “According to the National Weather Service, graupel is snow that melts and becomes supercooled as it falls through a warm surface and forms ice pellets. Graupel is softer than hail, which is pure ice formed in thunderstorms.”

Image from KOMONews.

Portions of Southern California, especially those at higher elevations, are experiencing hail, sleet, snow—and graupel.

A Stranded Canadian Race Team. This reminds me of an R&T tale from years back, specifically, “Playing Frissbee,” July 1983, and its subtitle, “Fun in the sun, s’no joking.” 

This and the following image from R&T, July 1983.

I wrote, “We admit it: We’re race car groupies.” And what an opportunity: the Canadian Tire Corp’s Frissbee GR3 Can-Am car for a photo session at Riverside Raceway followed by track testing of another GR3 at Mojave Airport in the high desert of Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles. “Our intentions,” I said, “were to use a spare taxiway to get instrumented test data on the car, with Mike [Brayton, another Can-Am competitor] and John [R&T Editor Dinkel] sharing the driving.”

A drastically abbreviated R&T data panel.

“Alas,” I wrote, “Mother Nature had other ideas. For the first time in four years, it snowed in the Antelope Valley. Indeed, in an area where annual rainfall can be recorded using relatively few millimeters, we found ourselves completely isolated in more than a half-foot of snow.”

“ ‘This is nothing,’ our Canadian friends said, ‘It would rarely rate mention on the radio back home in Barrie.’ But it was quite enough to pack the Frissbee away and get on with the phone calls advising folks that no one would be home that night,” I reported.

“The  best calls, no doubt,” I wrote, “were from [Canadian Tire Corp] David Billes and his colleagues: ‘Er… Remember sunny southern California? Forget it.’ ” 

As I write this we’re in the middle of an unprecedented (but not unknown) SoCal winter storm, and the sun is shining at the moment. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023


  1. Bob
    February 26, 2023

    Remember that year, also that article. The boring, inevitable end of Can Am was soon to follow. Also remember snow in the San Fernando Valley in 1958, family 8mm motion pictures. Also a photo of snow in the SF valley in January, 1949 a few days before I was born.

  2. Mike B
    February 27, 2023

    Snow in the Antelope Valley isn’t rare, but it *is* unusual. It’s rarer elsewhere (like in downtown LA, or San Francisco). But when I was a kid we did get a snow morning in SF: in 1962. The Chron (SFGate) has a bunch of old snow pics for SF, and even an article listing the half-dozen or so times it’s appeared. Try searching with “snow san francisco 1962” or something similar for LA (has it *ever* snowed in downtown LA?). Winter isn’t over, though, and NW Calif is expecting snow down to sea level again this week, with the cold storms hitting SoCal a day or 2 after us. Grapevine might be closed some more…

    • simanaitissays
      February 27, 2023

      I cannot speak for downtown Los Angeles, but do recall at least a couple times here in Orange County. Wife Dottie’s St Bernard thought it was fun to bark at the flakes and eat them. The snow pretty much melted as it hit the ground or roof.

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