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108 Reading in L.A. Boils Away Heat Records

October 04, 1987|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

First, the Earth. Then the sun.

Before the cleanup of Thursday's earthquake was complete, the full force of the sun scorched Los Angeles.

The temperature reached 108 degrees at the Civic Center at 12:15 p.m. Saturday, breaking records, drawing summer-sized throngs to the beaches, pushing up sales of ice, beer and wine and punishing those who could not escape.

The day was the sixth hottest since 1878 when officials first began to record temperatures here. The heat set an October record for downtown Los Angeles and was only two degrees lower than the all-time heat record for Los Angeles of 110 degrees, which was set Sept. 1, 1955.

The heat stretched out to Orange County, which reported 105 degrees in Tustin, a record high for October. In San Diego, a high temperature record--104 degrees--for the date was set at 1:15 p.m. at Lindbergh Field.

More hot, dry weather--possibly more than 100 degrees--is in store today and Monday, according to Bob Grebe, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service.

Grebe said the high temperatures were caused by an unusual combination of atmospheric conditions that, in effect, moved the desert climate westward to Los Angeles:

A stationary warm high-pressure system over the western United States has blocked normal west-to-east weather movement in the upper atmosphere. Near the surface, the heating has produced a vast low-pressure system that stretches from Baja California to Northern California, which is blocking the cooling effect of sea breezes, Grebe said.

"I, like everybody else, will wait to see what the sea breeze does," he said.

As the temperature increased near noon, so did the excitement in the offices of the National Weather Service with staffers, an eye on the all-time record, cheering each degree upward.

"Being in weather, we are fascinated by it," said Grebe, who on Friday had predicted a high for Saturday in the mid-90s. "One of the first things you learn in this business is your limits of predictability. I'm at my limits. I must confess I am a spectator like anyone else."

During the midday hours, assistant Safeway store Manager Dennis Massie watched people from his air-conditioned vantage point on Sunset Boulevard near Virgil Avenue.

"A lot of people don't have air conditioning and they come in and take their time," he said. "I just had a lady who said how great it felt inside compared with outside."

On the outside, said Massie, who is from Dallas, "it is just like home. When you walk out, you just sort of slump over. That's how hot it feels. It just hits you instantly and drains you of all your energy."

Massie said sales of beer, wine and ice--especially ice--were brisk. And with the earthquake still in mind, customers were stocking up on bottled water as well, he said.

Many sought the beaches, where crowds in Los Angeles County were reported close to 400,000.

"It is extremely crowded," said Los Angeles Lifeguard Bill Asturias. "There are hundreds of people in the water. The water temperature is an enjoyable 68 degrees."

Asturias said lifeguards were bracing for an even bigger day today, given the advance notice of continued hot weather. With most of the summertime lifeguards back at college, Asturias said that he was "a little short-handed. . . . We are going to hire as many people as we can today."

If some sought air conditioning and others took to the beaches, no relief was in store for Chris Heimann, 22, and Charlie Mae Collins, 60.

Heimann, an $8-an-hour apprentice mason, worked under the blazing sun Saturday, putting up a brick retaining wall in Woodland Hills. The temperature in the shade was 106 degrees. Before the day was through, he drank three quarts of Gatorade and a similar amount of water. To keep his head cool, he put half a dozen ice cubes under his red, white and blue bandanna. During the worst of the heat, he had to replace them every half hour.

"There is no escape," he said.

Collins, an electrocardiogram technician, waited at a bus stop near City Hall Saturday, taking a dress that was "not right for me" back to a department store in Pasadena.

"I am really hot," she said. "If I had known it was this hot, I would have stayed at home."

Business was frantic at North Hollywood Ice Co., where ammonia refrigeration lines shaken loose by the earthquake had just been put back into place.

"We're swamped. We're doubling up," said owner Paul Nicoletti. "The liquor stores just can't keep up. They are calling three and four times. The phones are ringing like a son of a gun. Can I put you on hold?" He estimated that he would sell "easily . . . close to 60 tons, if not more. We are getting calls that are just driving us nuts. We ought to be grateful for it."

Police officials reported no unusual calls because of the heat. However, the California Highway Patrol reported a number of overheated cars stopped on the side of freeways. A spokesman at the Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center said one case of heat prostration had been brought to the emergency room.

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