SANTA CRUZ -- Colder weather than we're used to blasted Santa Cruz County on Wednesday, pushing people to crank up their heaters and break out scarves and gloves.

The day began with an icy reading of 31 degrees. It was one of the chilliest mornings of the year, according to forecasters with the National Weather Service in Monterey.

The mercury plunge is due to a disappearance of the region's usual cloud coverage, which was caused by a storm system from the Gulf of Alaska, meteorologist Diana Henderson said.

"The cloud layer keeps it from getting too terribly cold," she said.

In addition to brisk temperatures, heavy rain and wind are expected to hit the Central Coast late Thursday and last through Sunday.

Rain will be moderate to heavy at times, dumping a couple of inches in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Henderson said.

"At the least," she said of the rainfall prediction.

In the Sierra Nevada, the National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for Friday morning through late Saturday night.

Two feet of snow is expected above the 7,000-foot-elevation level and a foot or more of snow is predicted for the Tahoe basin.

Christmas Day should be dry and cold in Santa Cruz County with rain returning to the picture on Dec. 26.

Daily high temperatures for the week are expected to hang around the mid-50s with overnight lows in the low 40s.


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