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Cold Snap Boosts Natural-Gas Use; Storm on Horizon

December 15, 1987|KATHIE BOZANICH | Times Staff Writer

The official start of winter is still a week away, but record low temperatures Monday around the county sent natural-gas use soaring, growers into fields to protect crops, and the homeless into makeshift shelters.

Though increasing cloudiness will bring relief from the cold today, the clouds are merely a foreshadowing of a storm approaching from Hawaii, National Weather Service forecaster Wilbur Shigehara said.

Inch of Rain Possible

The storm is expected to bring as much as an inch of rain to coastal and inland areas and 10 inches of snow to area mountains by Wednesday afternoon, he added.

"This storm seems to be slowing down rapidly, but I would not be surprised to see it intensify at the last moment, hitting us hard," Shigehara said. "Expect the unexpected from this one."

Monday's low of 37 degrees at Lindbergh Field tied for the second-coldest Dec. 14 on record, he said. The coldest Dec. 14 in San Diego was 36 degrees in 1878, and temperatures also dipped to 37 degrees on that date in 1901.

Also, Monday afternoon's high of 55 degrees at the airport tied the record for lowest maximum temperature for that date, according to Shigehara.

Mount Laguna reported Monday's coldest overnight low in the county--13 degrees. Other lows include 18 in Campo, 23 in Valley Center, 24 in Escondido, 25 in Pauma Valley, 29 in El Cajon, 31 in Del Mar, 33 in Chula Vista and 42 in Oceanside.

The cold aside, Monday did see the calming of the gusty winds that had lashed through Southern California over the weekend.

The calming did not come before the winds--reaching 38 miles an hour at one point Sunday afternoon at Lindbergh Field--were blamed for the death of an elderly woman in La Mesa.

Dortha Miller, 80, and her husband, Marion, 83, of Spring Valley, were stopped at Bancroft Drive and Mariposa Street about 1:30 p.m. Sunday when a 100-foot eucalyptus tree uprooted by the wind toppled onto the front end of their small pickup truck, authorities said.

Dortha Miller died later that night at Sharp Memorial Hospital of head and internal injuries, said Chuck Bolton of the San Diego County coroner's office.

Her husband was in serious but stable condition Monday afternoon at Sharp Memorial, a hospital spokesman said.

Though it was the predicted below-freezing temperatures that had area avocado and citrus growers worried at first, it was the wind that wreaked the most havoc at many of the fields and groves over the weekend.

One grower reported to county agriculture officials that he had lost 85% of his fruit and leaves to the wind, while officials area-wide estimated 2% of the incoming Haas avocado crop was lost after being blown from trees.

"Winds disrupted the temperature fall, so it wasn't as cold for as long as we expected," Shigehara said. "However, the very thing that kept temperatures down did its own damage."

Natural-gas consumption in the county reached near-record levels between 7 and 8 a.m. Monday morning as people getting ready for work woke up to a chilly morning, said San Diego Gas & Electric spokeswoman Karen Duncan.

"There was definitely increased usage (Monday) morning as people got up and made a beeline for their heaters," Duncan said. "We do not expect to be breaking any records during this cold snap, and have plenty of a supply, but we were operating at capacity level with natural gas (Monday) morning."

San Diego's homeless flocked to makeshift shelters Sunday night. About 490 people seeking relief from the cold slept on cots and on blankets on the floor in some cases, officials said.

San Diego called off its weekend housing emergency Monday after forecasters predicted overnight lows to be 3 to 4 degrees warmer.

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