Beaches filled up early and boiling radiators slowed freeway traffic in Southern California Sunday as temperatures soared past the century mark and smog became a problem from the mountains to the sea.
More than 1.7 million refugees from the heat--just about everyone who could find a place to park--spent at least a portion of the day on beaches from Zuma to Newport, where the mercury stayed in the mid to upper 80s and lifeguards said they rescued more people from sunburn than from the surf.
"The water was so quiet that you could almost hear the skin frying," said Los Angeles County Lifeguard Bob Jerrold.
"On Sunday morning, most people sleep in. But this time the parking lots were filled by the middle of the morning and people were walking a mile or more to find a patch of sand by noon."
San Diego city lifeguards said beachgoers arrived early but found little room for a spot on the beach at 10 a.m. Reports of sting ray stings were higher than average, but water activity was high--taxing lifeguards who were on duty until dusk.
Los Angeles and San Diego both tied their record high temperatures for the day Sunday. San Diego's high tied the record for a second day at Lindbergh Field, with a high of 89 degrees matching the record set in 1981. Saturday's daytime temperature was the highest in 54 years, tying the record of 85 set in 1931.
The high temperature at Los Angeles Civic Center Sunday was 102 degrees, which tied the record for the day set in 1926 but still fell short of the year's record--107 degrees, which was the downtown reading on July 1.
Even Hotter Elsewhere
Other parts of Southern California were even hotter: Death Valley, with a reading of 116, was one of the four hottest places in the United States--a distinction shared with Buckeye, Coolidge and Parker, Ariz.
Beaumont had a reading of 112. Monrovia, Woodland Hills, Palm Springs, Needles, Riverside and Barstow all reached 111, and it was 110 in Blythe, Ontario and San Bernardino.
The mercury reached 108 in Northridge; 107 in Pasadena; 106 in Burbank, Lancaster and San Gabriel; 104 in Montebello 103 during the afternoon in Bishop and Simi Hills.
The California Highway Patrol said traffic was almost at a standstill along Pacific Coast Highway from Ventura to Santa Monica throughout the afternoon, while tow trucks kept busy with more than 200 breakdowns caused by overheating along freeways in the Los Angeles area.
"Some of the boiling radiators were predictable. The cars were old and in bad shape," said CHP spokesman H.E. Means. "But others probably came as a surprise--newer cars that boiled over because they were stuck in traffic with air conditioning blasting away for a while.
"Either way, each breakdown meant more problems for the cars behind, though no one area was especially hard hit or troublesome--except, of course for PCH in the vicinity of Malibu."
Brush fires caused still more traffic problems.
About 100 visitors were evacuated from Frank G. Bonelli Regional County Park near San Dimas when flames erupted in dense, dry grass and brush near the intersection of the Foothill and San Bernardino freeways. The San Bernardino Freeway was closed for more than an hour because of heavy smoke, resulting in a long and frustrating detour for several thousand motorists.
The Golden State Freeway was tied up for a while, too, while Los Angeles County Fire Department crews battled flames that engulfed an automobile pulled off on the shoulder of the roadway in the Castaic area.
Humidity Helps a Little
Relative humidity ranged from 59% to 24% in Central Los Angeles, and from 45% to 55% in San Diego, which made the heat a little easier to bear. But the National Weather Service said all that may change-- for the worse--today or Tuesday.
Sunday's air was fairly dry, meteorologists explained, because the usual onshore flow of moist marine air was temporarily reversed, becoming a rather weak offshore flow because of the extreme heat inland.
The moist air will start moving ashore again before long, though, and while this should lead to cooler temperatures the difference may not be noticeable because of the increase in humidity.
Meanwhile, moisture trapped farther inland was spawning a series of small thundershowers in Arizona, which could move westward over desert and mountain areas of Southern California during the next day or two, according to the Weather Service.
Pollution made the air unhealthful in El Cajon on Sunday, but other areas of San Diego County experienced moderate air quality. The Air Pollution Control District predicted little change for today.
More than a dozen first alerts were called during the day from Los Angeles-area inland valleys to Central Los Angeles to northern Orange County, and the Air Quality Management District said things will be about the same today, with unhealthful air predicted for the San Gabriel-Pomona, Riverside-San Bernardino and San Fernando-Santa Clarita Valleys, in coastal areas and inland Orange County.