The recent cold snap is nothing compared to what happened 81 years ago this Wednesday in Sacramento.
On that day, the coldest temperature ever recorded in Sacramento occurred. The mercury dipped to 17 degrees downtown.
The record low was part of a frigid period that lasted from Dec. 9 to Dec. 15, according to the National Weather Service History books. Low temperatures dropped to the teens and low 20s every night.
Crops suffered, park ponds froze, radiators ruptured, water stopped flowing through pipes, a sheepherder froze to death and goldfish outside in a block of ice came miraculously came back to life.
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Here are snippets from The Bee around the time of the Big Freeze of ’32, when weather was news, along with the Great Depression.
“Smudge pots sent up a pall of smoke over orchards in the citrus areas of the Sacramento Valley as the growers made a desperate effort to save their crops from the worst December freeze in the history of California.”
“Meteorologist (E.H.) Fletcher said the cold wave was due to a rare example of ‘importation of cold air’ from Alaska and Western Canada.”
“Firemen found themselves compelled to face the wintry blasts with an avalanche of calls to put out fires resulting from overheated chimneys and stoves.”
“Gardeners in the state capitol grounds found the fountain between the two extension buildings frozen solid, and the pool still was sheeted with ice at noon.”
“One death was directly attributed to the cold in Superior California. Frederick Wilder, 73, a sheepherder, froze to death while watching a herd of sheep near Arboga, Yuba County.”
“The all-time record for chilliness was established yesterday morning, when the mercury dropped to 17 degrees, two degrees under the previous low mark set in January, 1888. The highest temperature yesterday was 34 degrees.”
“Fair Oaks, in the heart of Sacramento County’s citrus belt, registered a temperature of 15 degrees yesterday morning, and it was felt there was little likelihood the orange crop could have escaped general injury from the unprecedented cold.”
“Plumbers and radiator repair men were the busiest people. There was no depression in their business.”
“Hundreds of Sacramento residents experienced frozen water pipes and motorists who called on friends Saturday night went out to find their radiators frozen.”
“At the city zoo in William Land Park attendants scurried about with oil stoves and other means of heating the cages of animals.”
“For the first time in history ice thick enough for skaters formed on the lake in McKinley Park.”
“Mrs. Stephen L. Kyle…forgot to dress the gold fish on the back porch in their heavy flannels…the fish were firmly encased in solid block of ice. Upon expert advice from friend husband, the gold fish were carefully thawed out. And believe it or not, the fish are as good as new.”
The weather service notes that the record-breaking cold snap halted on Dec. 16, 1932 when a warm and moist storm from the mid-Pacific moved into Northern California.
Another cold weather period, this one memorable to more Sacramento residents, occurred Dec. 20, 1990 to Jan. 1, 1991. Downtown Sacramento had a record number of consecutive days with minimum temperatures 32 degrees or lower: 13.
The Bee’s Jason Coughran contributed to this story.