San Francisco Winter Weather: What To Expect

San Francisco is known for its iconic foggy summers, but how cold does it get in the winter? If you’re wondering what winter is like in the City by the Bay, here’s a quick overview: San Francisco winters are mild, with average highs in the upper 50s Fahrenheit. However, the city still experiences chilly nights, rain, and even very rare snow.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive into the details of San Francisco’s winter weather patterns. You’ll learn about average temperatures, typical precipitation, variation across microclimates, and extreme weather events like cold snaps. We’ll also explore how climate change is impacting winters in the Bay Area.

Average Temperatures and Weather Patterns

December, January and February Averages

When it comes to winter weather in San Francisco, the city experiences mild temperatures compared to many other parts of the country. The average temperature in December, January, and February ranges from 50°F to 60°F (10°C to 15.5°C).

This means that San Francisco winters are generally quite comfortable, with temperatures rarely dropping below freezing.

However, it’s important to note that San Francisco’s microclimate can result in variations in temperatures across different neighborhoods. Areas closer to the coastline tend to be cooler and experience more fog, while inland areas may be slightly warmer.

Daily and Nightly Temperature Fluctuations

One characteristic of San Francisco’s winter weather is the significant temperature fluctuations between day and night. During the daytime, temperatures can reach the mid-60s°F (around 18°C), making it feel relatively warm.

However, as the sun sets, the temperature can drop by several degrees, sometimes reaching the low 40s°F (around 5°C) or even lower.

This temperature drop can catch visitors off guard, so it’s always a good idea to dress in layers and be prepared for the temperature changes throughout the day. Carrying a light jacket or sweater is recommended, especially if you plan to be out and about in the evenings.

Fog, Wind, and Precipitation

San Francisco is notorious for its fog, and winter is no exception. The city experiences its highest levels of fog during the winter months, particularly in December and January. The fog can roll in overnight and linger throughout the morning, creating a mystical and enchanting atmosphere.

Additionally, winter in San Francisco can be windy, especially along the coast. The combination of fog and wind can lead to cooler temperatures and a chill in the air. It’s advisable to bring a light windbreaker or coat to protect against the gusts.

While San Francisco is not known for heavy rainfall during the winter, it does receive some precipitation. December tends to be the wettest month, with an average of X inches of rain. However, it’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast and be prepared with an umbrella or raincoat, just in case.

For more detailed weather information, you can visit the Weather Channel or AccuWeather websites.

Microclimates Across the City

San Francisco is known for its unique microclimates, where weather conditions can vary significantly from one neighborhood to another. The city’s geography, with its coastal areas and inland valleys, contributes to these microclimates.

Coastal Areas vs Inland Valleys

The coastal areas of San Francisco, such as the Sunset District and Ocean Beach, are heavily influenced by the cool marine layer that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean. These neighborhoods often experience cooler temperatures and foggy conditions, especially in the summer months.

On the other hand, the inland valleys, like the Mission District and Potrero Hill, are shielded from the cool ocean breeze and tend to be warmer and sunnier.

Difference in Rainfall

Another noticeable difference in San Francisco’s microclimates is the variation in rainfall. The western and northern parts of the city, closer to the ocean, tend to receive more rainfall due to the moisture-laden marine layer.

In contrast, the eastern and southern parts of the city, located in the rain shadow of the coastal hills, receive less rainfall. This difference in rainfall can be quite significant, with some neighborhoods experiencing double the amount of precipitation compared to others.

Coldest and Warmest Spots

When it comes to temperature extremes, San Francisco has its coldest and warmest spots. The coldest spot in the city is typically Twin Peaks, a hill located in the geographic center of San Francisco. Due to its elevation, Twin Peaks can be significantly colder than the surrounding areas.

On the other hand, the warmest spot in San Francisco is usually the Mission District. This neighborhood, located in one of the city’s inland valleys, tends to experience the highest temperatures, especially during heatwaves.

Understanding the microclimates across the city is important when planning your activities or deciding what to wear in San Francisco. It’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast for your specific neighborhood to get a better idea of what to expect.

Extreme Weather Events

San Francisco may be known for its mild and temperate climate, but it is not immune to extreme weather events. While the city enjoys relatively pleasant weather throughout the year, there are a few weather phenomena that can bring about significant changes in the winter months.

From cold snaps and freezing nights to atmospheric river storms and historic snowfalls, San Francisco experiences a variety of extreme weather events during the winter season.

Cold Snaps and Freezing Nights

During the winter months, San Francisco can experience occasional cold snaps, resulting in freezing temperatures overnight. While it may not be as frigid as some other parts of the country, residents and visitors should still be prepared for chilly nights.

It’s always a good idea to layer clothing and carry a warm jacket, hat, and gloves when venturing out in the evening. Additionally, taking necessary precautions to protect plants and pets from the cold can help mitigate any potential damage.

Atmospheric River Storms

One of the most significant weather events that San Francisco faces during the winter season is atmospheric river storms. These storms are characterized by a concentrated flow of moisture from the Pacific Ocean, which can result in heavy rainfall and strong winds.

These storms have the potential to cause flooding, landslides, and other weather-related hazards. It is essential for residents to stay informed about weather alerts and follow any evacuation orders or safety advisories issued by local authorities.

Historic Snowfalls

While it may be rare, San Francisco has experienced historic snowfalls in the past. One notable example is the snowstorm that occurred in 1976, where the city saw several inches of snowfall. This rare event brought excitement and wonder to the residents, who were unaccustomed to such wintry conditions.

Snowfall in San Francisco is a rare occurrence, but it serves as a reminder that extreme weather events can happen even in unexpected places.

For more information on San Francisco’s winter weather patterns and up-to-date forecasts, you can visit the National Weather Service website.

Influence of Climate Change

Climate change is a pressing issue that is affecting various regions around the world, including San Francisco. The city’s winter weather is no exception, as it is also being impacted by the changing climate.

The influence of climate change on San Francisco’s winter weather can be observed through various factors, including the observed changes in recent decades and the projected impacts on winter weather.

Observed Changes in Recent Decades

Over the past few decades, San Francisco has experienced notable changes in its winter weather patterns. The average winter temperatures have been rising, leading to milder and less frosty winters. This trend is consistent with the global phenomenon of increasing temperatures due to climate change.

Additionally, there has been an increase in the frequency and intensity of winter storms, resulting in heavier rainfall and stronger winds during the winter months.

According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), San Francisco has seen a significant increase in the number of rainy days during the winter season. This increase in precipitation can be attributed to the changing climate and the associated shifts in atmospheric patterns.

These changes have implications for various aspects of daily life, including transportation, infrastructure, and the environment.

Projected Impacts on Winter Weather

Looking ahead, climate models project that San Francisco’s winter weather will continue to be influenced by climate change. The city can expect to see further increases in average winter temperatures, leading to more mild and wet winters.

This means that snowfall in San Francisco will become increasingly rare, if not nonexistent, as temperatures remain above freezing for the majority of the winter season.

Furthermore, the frequency and intensity of winter storms are expected to continue increasing. This could result in more frequent and severe flooding events, as well as greater risks of landslides and other weather-related hazards.

It is important for the city and its residents to prepare and adapt to these projected impacts, ensuring the safety and resilience of the community.

Preparing for Wetter, Warmer Winters

As San Francisco prepares for wetter and warmer winters, it is crucial to implement measures that mitigate the potential risks and ensure the well-being of the city’s residents. This includes investing in infrastructure improvements to better manage increased rainfall and storm events.

It also involves implementing sustainable water management strategies to address potential water scarcity issues during the dry season.

Additionally, residents can take individual actions to adapt to the changing winter weather. This might include reinforcing homes against potential flooding, creating emergency preparedness kits, and staying informed about weather forecasts and warnings.

By taking proactive measures, San Francisco can better withstand the challenges posed by climate change and protect the city and its inhabitants.


While San Francisco experiences mild winters compared to most of the country, the city still sees a cool, wet season from December to February. The climate brings chilly fog, wind, and rain, with very rare snowfall primarily impacting the hills and outskirts. But winter weather patterns are shifting as the impacts of climate change intensify, leading San Franciscans to prepare for warmer, wetter, and more extreme winters ahead.

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