A storm Friday night is expected to briefly thaw the arctic blast invading the San Joaquin Valley, but the mini-warmup might be as miserable as the cold snap.
Flurries of snow are forecast to mix with a light rain as temperatures hover in the mid-30s -- leading to a damp, chilly wake-up call on Saturday morning. It would be Fresno's first snow in eight years.
The slight warmup might be welcomed by citrus growers, who are battling this week to save oranges, mandarins and lemons from freezing at night.
Though some damage may have occurred overnight into Thursday, frost protection has been successful at keeping temperatures above critical thresholds through the night in most areas, according to California Citrus Mutual officials in Exeter.
"We think most growers came through in pretty good shape," Paul Story, director of grower services for the Citrus Mutual, said after Thursday morning's chill had ended.
The arctic blast from Canada this week came within one degree of creating a low-temperature record in Fresno early Thursday. It got down to 29 degrees.
Bitter cold settled into Yosemite National Park, where the mercury dipped to minus 10 at Tioga Pass at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet.
More of the same was expected in the early hours Friday. The low temperature in Fresno is forecast to be 28, which would tie a record set more than a century ago.
The big chill is gripping the West as the high-elevation jet stream rises to the Arctic Circle near Alaska and comes roaring south. Temperatures are expected to plummet into the 20s again at night after the storm passes Saturday.
Kevin Severns, general manager at Orange Cove-Sanger Citrus, said that while most growers escaped significant damage from the freeze so far, he remains concerned about the forecast.
Overnight lows in the citrus belt are expected to hit in the mid-to-upper 20s again early Friday. Meteorologists are forecasting another round of freezing temperatures early Sunday.
"We are hoping to ride this out," Severns said. "But it does not look too promising."
In Fresno, the last time it snowed was Dec. 11, 2005. The National Weather Service records show the storm left a trace. The storm Saturday isn't expected to do much more.
"We're not talking about any accumulations of snow," said meteorologist Paul Iniguez of the National Weather Service's Hanford office.
Records show Fresno had snow three times in December 1990 when another extreme freeze hit the Valley. The city recorded snow five more times in the 1990s, but only once since 1999.
Iniguez said there is no reason for the frequency of snowfall in Fresno. Sometimes, the snow events happen in bunches, as they did in the 1990s. Sometimes, it doesn't snow for many years.
"It does snow in Fresno," said Iniguez. "It just doesn't happen very often."
These Valley warming centers are open during the cold spell:
Frank H. Ball Neighborhood Center, 760 Mayor Ave., Fresno; (559) 621-CITY (2489).
Fresno Rescue Mission, 310 G St., Fresno; (559) 268-0839.
Visalia Rescue Mission, 322 NE First Ave., Visalia; (559) 740-4178.
Visalia Rescue Mission Community Center, 741 N. Santa Fe St., Visalia.
Chowchilla Senior Center, 820 W. Robertson Blvd., Chowchilla; (559) 665-1089.
Frank Bergon Senior Center, 238 S. D St., Madera; (559) 673-4293.
Ranchos/Hills Senior Center, 37339 Berkshire Drive, Madera; (559) 645-4864.
Madera Rescue Mission, 332 Elm Ave., Madera; (559) 675-8321.
Pan Am Community Center, 703 E. Sherwood Way, Madera; (559) 675-2095.
Coarsegold Community Center, 35540 Highway 41, Coarsegold; (559) 683-7953.
Yosemite Lakes Park Clubhouse, 30250 Yosemite Springs Parkway, Coarsegold; (559) 658-7466.
Sierra Senior Center, 49111 Cinder Lane, Oakhurst; (559) 683-3811.
Tulare County residents can call 211 for information.