If you are moving to Silicon Valley, whether San Mateo or Santa Clara County, you should know that things are a little different in fall and winter than they are in spring and summer. Here are just a few areas that might not be intuitively obvious to the newcomers.
First, a word on appearance. In Santa Clara County, we have two primary sets of hills – one closer to the Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay (west side), and one closer to central California (east side). Because our local weather is dominated in very large part by the Pacific Ocean, much of the weather blows in from the coast. A lot of the rain gets dumped in the coastal range, also known as the Santa Cruz Mountains. Less makes it all the way to Los Gatos, less still to downtown San Jose, and a much smaller amount to the east foothills and places such as Alum Rock Park. The coastal range (also called just “the hill” by locals) is green year round as it is full of redwoods and other trees which love the moisture. The east side, though, is more grassy, fewer trees, and gets far less rain. In winter the grasses are a lovely green. With drought or in summer, however, the grass turns brown or pale yellow.
For people coming from the east coast, the hills there are more likely green in summer and brown in winter. Here, though, it is the opposite. We don’t usually get rain in summer, so the grasses die and the hills go brown.
Rain, when we get normal patterns, usually begins in November and comes and goes between then and late April. In a typical year, San Jose gets 15-20″ of rain (Los Gatos more, the Los Gatos Mountains much much more). If we get an El Nino pattern year, temps will be warmer than usual and rain will be much more common than typical. It’s not much fun to have an El Nino year, but right now we desperately need the rain, so folks here are all hoping for it.
Second, a word on roads and travel. Silicon Valley enjoys a sub-tropical climate with mild temperatures and not too much rain, even in a normal year. With very little rain most of the time, our streets and highways can develop a dusty, oily film. Whenever we get rain after a dry spell, those highways and roads can be slicker than you might expect. It’s not that we need a ton of rain for the surfaces to become more slippery, either. A very small amount of precipitation can do the trick, so be careful!
If your destination requires going over “the hill”, be triply careful! Too many people, whether regular commuters or first time adventurers, either tailgate or drive too fast, and it can make it too easy for accidents to happen when a little weather is added into the mix.
Further, some of those beautiful redwood trees or others may have shallow roots and with heavier rain, they may come down. Most of the roadways on the mountains are well maintained but it doesn’t take much for a small mudslide to impede traffic. These tend only to happen in the rain.
Sometimes, in winter, we get a storm blowing down from Alaska and Canada rather than the regular offshore flow. When that happens, it can get REALLY cold (a very cold day for us is when it doesn’t get out of the 40s) and snow may dust not just the dryer, cooler east foothills, but the coastal ones as well. Kids get pretty excited about snow in the Santa Cruz Mountains, so if that happens, be prepared for any in your home to ask for a drive up to Summit Road to play in the white stuff. Usually snow melts pretty soon after it falls. (Every 10 or 20 years we get a little in Los Gatos or San Jose, but it does not last at all!)
Third: you can still buy a home in fall or winter here. In many parts of the U.S., especially where there is snow, the real estate market pretty much quiets down from November until spring. Here, that’s not necessary since our weather is mild. It really is possible to purchase a home year round here (and often the best prices are for homes sold and closed in late winter). Please see my article on another of my sites for more info on this:
Fourth: there are lots of ways to have fun in autumn or winter in Silicon Valley! Dive in to the myriad of ongoing and special events! This will make the fall or winter transition far easier for you and your loved ones. Year round, there are farmers markets in Los Gatos and Campbell, and many other parts of Silicon Valley too. In December there are a plethora of events, many of them without any cost whatsoever. Whatever you do, do not move in and stay home, awaiting the spring before emerging. Like to ice skate? You can do that year round here in rinks, but also out of doors in downtown San Jose for a few weeks each winter. The rink is not large but it’s memorable as it works its way around a ring of palm trees! (Take a photo of that and send it home!) Watch my Live in Los Gatos blog for events specific to that town, or google your exact city or town for holiday events there.
No matter where you’re coming from or when you arrive: welcome! I hope that you will love living in Silicon Valley!