Cold snap headed to Sacramento

Bundle up, wrap the water pipes and cover the plants: Weather forecasters warn that a cold front is expected to bring sustained sub-freezing temperatures to the Sacramento area by Wednesday night.

After a high of 68 degrees in downtown Sacramento on Monday, a high of 56 degrees is forecast for today before dropping to 48 degrees on Wednesday, said Darren Van Cleave, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

A one-two punch is expected to sock Northern California.

The first arrives on a fast-moving cold front that is predicted to sweep southward across the region, bringing a slight chance of rain and high winds to Sacramento today. The overnight low today is expected to be a bit above freezing.

However, a second, much colder air mass is forecast to settle in across the north state by midweek, according to the NWS. That means widespread freezing conditions are predicted for the Sacramento Valley.

A hard freeze watch, meaning overnight temperatures of 28 degrees or less are expected for more than three hours, has been issued for late Wednesday night through Saturday morning.

The overnight low Wednesday is expected to dip to around 32 degrees, the beginning of the cold spell. Through Saturday, the NWS predicts, the nighttime low will be 30 degrees or below in Sacramento.

“I think some records are going to fall this week,” Van Cleave said, noting that the expected overnight lows are below normal for this time of year, when record lows have hovered around 32 degrees.

The cold fronts aren’t expected to bring much rain to the Valley, but snow is expected today in the mountains and foothills, including such areas as Grass Valley and Placerville.

“The snow level will drop pretty quickly, from 8,500 feet to about 3,000 feet or less.” Van Cleave said.

The NWS reminds residents to follow the usual cold-weather precautions: wrap water pipes, bring pets inside and cover frost-sensitive plants such as citrus trees.

Homeowners are advised to take measures to prevent pipes from leaking or bursting after a hard freeze.

“What you want to do is, for any exposed pipe, you want to cover it,” said Dan York, assistant general manager for the Sacramento Suburban Water District. “It can be as simple as a towel, or go to the hardware store and there is Styrofoam wrapping that you can purchase.”

One thing most homeowners don’t realize is that there are pipes in the attic that can burst, he said.

“Back in the 1990s, when we had a big hard freeze, a lot of houses had that problem,” York recalled.

To avoid freezing pipes, he advised opening an outside faucet a bit, allowing a trickle of water. “If the water is flowing, it won’t freeze,” York said.

With a hard freeze forecast for Wednesday, gardeners are advised to cover or move plants.

Homeowners should check for plants that are likely to be exposed to cold temperatures, said Judy McClure, master gardener coordinator with the University of California Cooperative Extension.

“The lower spots in the garden tend to get colder than higher spots,” she said. “The bottom of the slope will be colder.”

Plants farther away from the house also will be more vulnerable than those growing next to the dwelling.

The next step is to identify which plants need to be protected when the temperature drops to 32 degrees. Citrus trees, succulents and some perennial flowers, such as hibiscus, are susceptible to frost.

McClure advises having a good supply of covers, noting that blankets and frost cloths can be purchased. She recommends against throwing a plastic tarp over trees, unless there is a frame to keep the plastic from direct contact with the tree. Contact with the plastic could cause damage by burning the foliage, she explained.

If the soil is dry, McClure said, it is best to water trees and succulents before covering them with blankets or frost cloths. When covering citrus trees, make sure the cover reaches the ground, she said.