CENTRAL VALLEY -- It's cold in California. Not just in the usual isolated Siberian pretenders such as Truckee and Mount Shasta. It's cold everywhere.
It was 27 degrees in Santa Barbara on Monday morning, breaking a record set 23 years earlier. Los Angeles recorded a low of 33 degrees, breaking a 2007 record.
Those places are positively balmy compared with the coldest place in California on Monday: 17 degrees below zero at Burnside Lake, an uninhabited spot near Hope Valley, south of Lake Tahoe.
The coldest town Monday, according to the National Weather Service, was Alturas in Modoc County, which sank to 15 below zero.
In Modesto, the lows have hovered around 28 degrees over the past couple of days. The low this morning was predicted to be 29 degrees.
"I walk every morning about 8:30, and I truly look like the Michelin tire person when I go out," said Diane Uebelhart, a Sacramento resident and volunteer weather spotter for the National Weather Service. "It's been cold, but I've enjoyed it. I love weather and all weather phenomenon. So I'm fascinated by it."
The cause of all this shivering is a blocking ridge of high pressure parked off the coast. This is diverting storms far to the north so far that Portland and Seattle are unusually dry and cold.
Rather than the usual wet, warm storms off the Pacific Ocean, California is getting lots of dry, cold air plunging down from Canada. A clear sky makes conditions even colder.
A freeze warning was in effect again through 9 a.m. today over a vast area of the state from Redding to Bakersfield, throughout the Bay Area and along the south coast from Cambria to Oxnard.
Conditions are expected to warm slightly as the week continues, but remain frigid.
"These ridges are very slow to break down, and they can hang around for weeks at a time," said Drew Peterson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Sacramento. "People shouldn't expect much of a change anytime in the next week and a half to two weeks."
Records have been broken, but the cold has not been historically extreme in most areas. It has, however, been persistent.
For example, the low temperature in Modesto has been below average 12 of the first 14 days in January.
Days not warm, either
Adding to that numb feeling is this fact: Daytime highs have been below average in many areas for the past week. In other words, daytime isn't offering much relief from the cold.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. expects customer gas usage bills to increase about 10 percent this month compared with a year ago because of the cold weather, spokeswoman Brandi Ehlers said.
As a result, the average customer is likely to see his or her bill increase about $4 compared with January 2012, she said. This is likely even though the utility is charging customers 6 percent less for natural gas compared with a year ago.
Hardest hit have been California citrus growers. They have had five sleepless nights working to protect their $1.5 billion industry.
"Sunday night was really rough," said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, which represents about 2,000 growers. "It was cold and stayed cold for more than 12 hours. And we've still got to get through another cold night (Monday)."
Growers spent an estimated $17.5 million over the weekend to keep their citrus orchards warm enough to ward off damage, Nelsen said. They'll spend about $4 million more each night the chilly weather continues.
Keeping orchards warm
The cost comes from frost-protection measures that include flooding orchards, which causes warm air to rise, then running wind machines, which keeps the warm air close to the ground.
Mandarins, which are frost tender at 32 degrees, saw some damage, but oranges which are hardy to 28 degrees escaped unharmed. For the most part, lemons got lucky, too.
The timing of this cold snap helped, Nelsen said. The oranges have a high sugar content, which keeps them from freezing.
"If this had hit Dec. 12, it would have been a disaster," he said. "But we had enough cold nights already for the fruit to toughen up."
Overall, this season has been relatively mild.
"December 2011 was one of the coldest Decembers we can remember," Nelsen said. "We had so many nights below freezing. We spent more than $500 million just in December (to warm the groves). Hard freezes last January knocked heck out of the mandarins."
The frost warnings sent gardeners scrambling to cover plants or, if possible, drag them inside.
"I covered my jade plant; it was the one that worried me the most," said Sacramento community gardening coordinator Bill Maynard. "My lemon tree has a little leaf damage, but not too much. But gardeners with tomatoes or peppers still in the ground they're toast."
At Green Acres Nursery and Supply, workers spend more than an hour each evening covering plants with insulated frost cloths. In the morning, they spend another hour taking down their cold barriers.
"We don't take any chances," said Greg Gayton, manager of the six-acre nursery. "If the forecast is for below 38 degrees, we go into our drill."
To help keep plants warm, workers thoroughly irrigate the nursery stock in the afternoon. Some sensitive plants also are sprayed with Wilt-Pruf, a polymer that protects their foliage. Irrigation pipes are left to drip; that trickle of moving water prevents freezing.
Although frost can damage many plants, others benefit from the extra cold.
"I tell people, 'Look at your lilacs they'll be beautiful,' " Gayton said. "Tulips should be absolutely outstanding. There's going to be some gold out of all this cold."