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Rare snowfall lures San Jose residents up "scary" drive to Mount Hamilton summit

Snowfall lures Santa Clara Valley residents to Mount Hamilton summit
Snowfall lures Santa Clara Valley residents to Mount Hamilton summit 03:17

SAN JOSE -- Saturday's rainstorm throughout the Bay Area became something else at the higher reaches of Mount Hamilton.  A lucky few got to spend some time in the snow but it required either a dedication to work or a sense of adventure.

San Jose spent the late morning under cloudy skies and a bit of rain. Farther up on Mt Hamilton the temperature began dropping and things got a lot more interesting.  A light layer of snow covered the terrain, making the narrow summit road with its sheer dropoffs a journey not for the faint of heart. 

Even so, it was there that KPIX found Michael Poland, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey. 

"I'm out here doing a geophysical survey today," he said, laughing, as snowflakes fell.  "You know, no time like the present, I guess. I figured we'll just see what it's like when we get up here. This morning it wasn't bad. Later this morning, it got a little worse.  One of my colleagues once told me, 'you're not made of sugar,' so I'm trying not to complain when I get wet."

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The snow wasn't enough to dampen Poland's work ethic, as he set out to calibrate, at different elevations, a piece of equipment that measures minute changes in gravity.  It turns out that, during wet winters, water seeping into the ground can actually increase gravity in the area.

"The pull of gravity changes depending on what's beneath your feet," Poland explained. "Then we can see the change in gravity from all that change in mass from under the surface.  So, it's a pretty useful technique for knowing what's beneath your feet and how that's changing." 

With the science lesson over, snowfall increased and the road to the summit was all but empty. At the top of the mountain is the Lick Observatory -- normally open to the public but not on this day.  With tiny snow drifts on the window sills, it too was deserted except for Ralph Richbourg and his two daughters. He brought them up to see something they almost never see at their home in San Jose.

"It's a treat. It's always nice to see the snow in the mountains this time of year and then you always want to go up and touch it.  And today was the day.  City slickers, aren't we?  I need to touch snow!  I need to touch it!" he said, with a laugh.

His 13-year-old daughter Izabella said that, even if it was her dad's idea, it wasn't a bad one, despite the slightly scary ride up the mountain.

"We don't usually go to the snow a lot but our drive up here made me really anxious because of all those edges," she said.  "We came up here just to explore and to see some snow.  It feels like a lot of fun and an opportunity to me ... It's a privilege."

Seeing the snow was an opportunity and a privilege for those with a thirst for adventure but it didn't last long.  By about one o'clock the air began to warm and the snow to melt, sending water down the mountain to help make San Jose more attractive --  gravitationally speaking, anyway.

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