Record-setting chill from Arctic Circle
by Michael Langley
Dec 12, 2013 | 3669 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A grove of dormant trees off East 11th Street, owned by Bob Williams, shone with ice the morning of Dec. 5 in the midst of successive nights of below-freezing weather in Tracy.  Press file photo
A grove of dormant trees off East 11th Street, owned by Bob Williams, shone with ice the morning of Dec. 5 in the midst of successive nights of below-freezing weather in Tracy. Press file photo
It’s cold.

While that may be common knowledge for many, Jim Mathews, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service station in Sacramento, said the cold air coming straight from the North Pole has set a record for the Tracy area.

“A big ridge of high pressure that extended up into Alaska opened the doors for this cold air from the Arctic Circle to plunge southward across the western portion of North America and right down into our area,” Mathews said in an interview Wednesday, Dec. 11.

In fact, according to NWS data from a measuring station in Tracy, the low on Friday, Dec. 6, was a record-setting 26 degrees — though some other local measurements recorded a 22 degree low. The previous record on that day was 30 degrees, set in 1990.

The meteorologist said the fog that is a normal feature this time of year usually helps keep temperatures warmer.

“The air is cold and dry, so it’s not conducive for fog at all,” Mathews said. “Usually, the fog sets in after we get a couple of good soaking rains, and that moisture doesn’t evaporate this time of year.”

Mathews said the cold air from the north ended Wednesday and the area can expect to return to more normal overnight temperatures in the low to mid-30s.

The cold has had some noticeable effects on the Tracy area.

According to the staff at the Larch Clover Community Center, 11157 W. Larch Road, the San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services activated the facility as a local warming center from Dec. 6 to Dec. 13.

People stayed at the community center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day last week.

One farmer turned his orchard into a winter tourist attraction by trying to do some last-minute watering before the irrigation district closed for the year.

Bob Williams and his wife own the almond orchard on the south side of the intersection of East 11th Street and Lovely Way. Williams watered his field overnight Dec. 5,

and the frigid temperatures froze the water, encasing his small trees in ice. Dozens of drivers on 11th Street pulled over to take photos.

“The (Banta-Carbona) irrigation district is closing, and we were just trying to do some irrigation,” he said. “I didn’t expect so many people to stop.”

Williams said the ice wouldn’t harm the trees, which were already dormant for the winter.

“I went out at 2:30 in the morning to check on them and everything was OK,” the farmer said. “They were really pretty. We had our grandkids out in the trees taking pictures.”

Tracy Fire Department Division Chief Andrew Kellogg said some safety concerns do come up when temperatures fall.

“People tend to utilize space heaters or open-flame devices to stay warm,” Kellogg said. “The fire department does not want you to use open-flame heating devices indoors.”

Kellogg said people should keep combustible items well clear of heaters and leave at least 2 feet of space around any heater.

The division chief also said some household fireplaces are not intended to burn wood. Some recently constructed fireplaces are considered “zero clearance” and are designed to burn pressed-wood logs, such as Duraflame, and only one of those at a time.

Burning wood in a fireplace not meant for it can generate too much heat, damaging the flue and allowing the fire to spread to the attic and roof.

Kellogg said people should always remove ashes from a fireplace after a fire, put them in a metal container and douse them with water. Ashes should never go into a plastic container or be dumped in a garbage tote.

• Contact Michael Ellis Langley at 830-4231 or

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