The Coldest Cities In California

With its sunny Mediterranean climate, California is known for its mild winters. But parts of the state still see cold temperatures and even snowfall during the winter months.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Some of the coldest cities in California based on average winter lows include Truckee, South Lake Tahoe, Weaverville, Yreka and Alturas.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll highlight the coldest cities in California, look at climate data to compare average winter lows, discuss what influences cold temperatures in certain areas, and provide tips on handling a California winter.

California’s Diverse Climate Zones

California is known for its diverse climates, ranging from the sunny beaches of Southern California to the snowy mountains of the Sierra Nevada. The state is divided into several distinct climate zones, each with its own unique weather patterns and temperatures.

Understanding these climate zones can help explain why some cities in California are colder than others.

Overview of Main Climate Zones

California can be divided into four main climate zones: Mediterranean, Desert, Mountain, and Coastal. The Mediterranean climate zone covers most of the state, including cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. This zone is characterized by mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers.

The Desert climate zone is found in the southeastern part of California, including cities like Palm Springs and Death Valley. This zone is known for its extremely hot summers and mild winters, with little rainfall throughout the year.

The Mountain climate zone encompasses the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada and the Shasta Cascade region. Cities like Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes experience cold, snowy winters and cool summers. The temperatures in these areas can vary greatly depending on the elevation.

The Coastal climate zone is located along the California coastline, including cities like Santa Barbara. This zone is characterized by mild, damp winters and cool summers, with temperatures moderated by the ocean breeze.

Factors Affecting Temperatures

Several factors contribute to the varying temperatures in different cities within these climate zones. One of the primary factors is proximity to the ocean. Cities located along the coast tend to have milder temperatures due to the moderating effect of the ocean.

For example, San Francisco experiences cooler summers compared to cities further inland.

Elevation is another significant factor. Higher elevation areas, such as Lake Tahoe, have colder temperatures due to the thinner air and increased exposure to colder air masses. This is why mountainous cities in California often have colder climates, especially during the winter months.

Additionally, the presence of mountains can create microclimates within certain regions. For example, cities located on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, like Bishop and Mammoth Lakes, are known for their colder temperatures and heavier snowfall compared to cities on the western side.

It’s important to note that while California is generally associated with warm weather, there are cities in the state that experience colder temperatures. These colder cities often fall into the Mountain and Desert climate zones, where colder winters and hotter summers are common.

Coldest Cities by Average Winter Lows

Truckee (17F average low)

When it comes to cold temperatures, Truckee takes the crown as one of the coldest cities in California. With an average winter low of 17F, residents of Truckee are no strangers to bundling up in layers and bracing themselves against the biting cold.

Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains, this picturesque town offers stunning views of snow-covered landscapes, making it a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts.

South Lake Tahoe (20F)

South Lake Tahoe is another city in California known for its chilly winters. With an average winter low of 20F, residents and visitors alike get to experience the magic of a winter wonderland. Nestled near the beautiful Lake Tahoe, this city offers a plethora of outdoor activities, from skiing and snowboarding to ice skating and snowshoeing.

So, if you’re a fan of winter sports, South Lake Tahoe might just be the perfect destination for you.

Weaverville (31F)

Weaverville is a small town located in Trinity County, and it is known for its colder winter temperatures. With an average winter low of 31F, Weaverville might not be as frigid as Truckee, but its residents still have to bundle up during the winter months.

Despite the cold, Weaverville has a charming downtown area with historic buildings and a strong sense of community.

Yreka (28F)

Yreka, located in Siskiyou County, is another city in California that experiences cold winter temperatures. With an average winter low of 28F, Yreka sees its fair share of frosty mornings and chilly evenings.

However, the cold weather doesn’t dampen the spirit of the residents, who continue to embrace the beauty of their surroundings. Yreka is also known for its historic downtown area and vibrant arts community.

Alturas (24F)

Last but not least, Alturas is a city in Modoc County that makes the list of the coldest cities in California. With an average winter low of 24F, Alturas experiences its fair share of freezing temperatures during the winter season.

Despite the cold, Alturas offers a close-knit community, stunning natural landscapes, and a slower pace of life that many residents find appealing.

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Weather Patterns Causing Cold Snaps

California is often associated with warm beaches and sunny weather, but there are some cities in the state that experience colder temperatures. These cold snaps can be attributed to various weather patterns that influence the climate in these regions.

Freezing Air from the North

One of the main contributors to the cold weather in certain cities of California is the freezing air that travels from the north. As cold air masses move down from Canada and the Arctic region, they can bring frigid temperatures to cities like Truckee and South Lake Tahoe.

These cities, located in the Sierra Nevada mountains, are particularly susceptible to this phenomenon due to their higher elevation.

Storm Systems from the Pacific

Another factor that contributes to cold snaps in certain cities is the arrival of storm systems from the Pacific Ocean. These storms can bring cold air and precipitation, resulting in lower temperatures.

Cities along the northern coast of California, such as Eureka and Crescent City, are more prone to these storm systems due to their proximity to the ocean.

High Pressure Systems

High pressure systems can also play a role in causing cold weather in certain cities. When a high-pressure system settles over an area, it can bring clear skies and calm winds, but it can also trap cold air near the surface. This can lead to colder temperatures, especially during the winter months.

Cities like Redding and Chico, located in the Central Valley, can experience these high-pressure systems, resulting in colder weather conditions.

Record Low Temperatures

California is known for its warm and sunny climate, but it also has its fair share of cold temperatures. Let’s take a closer look at some of the record low temperatures that have been experienced in the Golden State.

Coldest temperature recorded in California

Believe it or not, California has experienced some bone-chilling temperatures that would make even the hardiest of snowbirds shiver. The coldest temperature ever recorded in California was -45 degrees Fahrenheit (-43 degrees Celsius) in Boca, a small town in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

This frigid temperature was recorded on January 20, 1937, during a particularly severe cold snap.

Record lows in key cities

While not every city in California experiences freezing temperatures, there are a few notable locations that have seen record lows. Here are some examples:

  • Big Bear Lake: This popular mountain resort town, nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains, has experienced temperatures as low as -25 degrees Fahrenheit (-32 degrees Celsius). This chilly record was set on January 29, 1979.
  • Tahoe City: Located on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, Tahoe City has seen temperatures drop to a bone-chilling -16 degrees Fahrenheit (-26 degrees Celsius) on December 11, 1972.
  • Mount Shasta: As one of the highest peaks in California, Mount Shasta has recorded temperatures as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit (-25 degrees Celsius) on December 22, 1990.

It’s important to note that these record lows are exceptions rather than the norm. California is typically known for its mild and moderate climate, with temperatures that make it an ideal destination for outdoor activities and year-round enjoyment.

Tips for Handling a California Winter

While California is known for its sunny and warm weather, there are a few cities in the state that experience cold temperatures during the winter months. If you find yourself in one of these coldest cities in California, it’s important to be prepared.

Here are some tips to help you handle a California winter.

Layer clothing for warmth

When the temperatures drop, it’s essential to dress in layers to stay warm. Start with a base layer made of moisture-wicking material to keep your body dry. Add a middle layer like a sweater or fleece for insulation, and top it off with a waterproof and windproof outer layer.

Don’t forget to wear warm socks, gloves, and a hat to protect your extremities from the cold. Layering clothing not only keeps you warm, but it also allows you to adjust your outfit as the temperature fluctuates throughout the day.

Weatherproof homes and pipes

Extreme cold weather can pose a risk to your home and plumbing system. To prevent freezing pipes, insulate them with foam or other pipe insulation materials. It’s also important to seal any cracks or gaps in your windows and doors to keep cold air from seeping in.

Consider using weatherstripping or caulk to seal these areas. Additionally, using draft stoppers at the bottom of doors can help prevent drafts and keep your home warm. Taking these measures will not only keep you comfortable but will also help you save on energy costs.

Prepare vehicles for cold and snow

If you live in one of the coldest cities in California, it’s essential to ensure that your vehicle is prepared for cold weather and possible snowfall. Check your tire pressure regularly as cold weather can cause it to decrease.

It’s also a good idea to switch to winter tires, which provide better traction on icy roads. Keep an ice scraper and a snowbrush in your car to clear off any snow or ice. It’s also crucial to have an emergency kit in your vehicle, including items like a flashlight, blankets, and non-perishable snacks, in case you get stranded during a winter storm.

By following these tips, you can stay warm and prepared during a California winter. Remember, even in the coldest cities, the winter season can bring beautiful sights and enjoyable activities. So, embrace the chill and make the most of your winter experience in California!


While not as cold as many other states, parts of California still see frigid temperatures and winter storms. By understanding the coldest cities based on climate data, weather patterns, and record lows, Californians can take steps to stay comfortable even during the chilliest conditions.

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