A cold snap that broke a record in Los Angeles and put a big chill on the rest of Southern California took the mercury below freezing in several Orange County locations early Saturday, threatening crops and nursery products, agriculture officials reported.
At one location, the University of California Extension Agricultural Station in Irvine, an overnight low of 30 degrees was reported. Other overnight lows around the county early Saturday included 32 at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, 33 in Santa Ana, 36 at John Wayne Airport and 37 at the Seal Beach Pier.
Meteorologists said clear skies and the absence of strong winds played a key role in keeping the temperatures so low. Cold as it was however, the temperature was well above the county's record low for the date--24 degrees in Santa Ana in 1918.
A record was tied in Los Angeles, however, when a 35-degree reading early Saturday at the Civic Center equaled a mark last reached on Dec. 26, 1881.
It was the second cold snap in little more than a week for Southern California residents, who will probably be swapping their winter coats for umbrellas as early as Monday night, if the forecasters are correct.
"We're going to go from record lows to crummy weather--everybody is going to love the meteorologist after this," said Dan Bowman of WeatherData Inc., which provides weather information to The Times.
Besides forcing farmers and nursery operators to take further precautions to protect vegetation, the continuing cold spell also prompted Orange County Social Services Department officials to keep the National Guard Armory in Santa Ana open as a refuge for the homeless. Initially, the armory was to be open only on Christmas Eve and Christmas night.
"We're committed for tonight and tomorrow night," said Robert Griffith, a supervisor at the facility, Saturday night. "We'll review the weather reports on Monday and make a decision on whether to keep it open even longer."
Griffith said 85 people had spent Friday night at the armory and perhaps as many as 100 were expected Saturday night. The homeless at the armory were being given cots and blankets, and two nonprofit community groups were feeding them, he said.
For a while at the beach, the water was more pleasant than the air.
Water 'Actually Warmer'
The mercury dipped to 38 early Saturday at the Huntington Beach Pier lifeguard station, Marine Safety Lt. Steve Davidson said.
"This is one of those rare times where the water is actually warmer than the air in the early morning," he said.
By noon Saturday, water and air temperatures were both 54 at Huntington Beach, and serious surfers wearing wet suits were out in the water.
The forecast for early today was for temperatures to again dip below 40, but not quite as cold as Saturday morning. Daytime temperatures for today should reach the high 50s, perhaps even the low 60s.
El Toro and Fullerton recorded highs of 56 Saturday, and Santa Ana recorded the county's high of 60.
An agent for the UC Agricultural Extension Service said Saturday that the cold snap had given farmers enough reason to worry.
Hard on Farmers
"I can't give you a firm estimate" of the extent of the damage, he said, "but it's rough now for a lot of farms around here."
Workers at farms and nurseries in Irvine were busy Saturday taking steps to fight the wind and cold. Sprinklers were used to keep frost from forming on strawberry plants, and black nylon netting formed a protective covering for nursery plants.
WeatherData's Bowman blamed the cold weather Saturday on the cloudless tranquil night. Cloud cover keeps warmer air, generated by the sun, from escaping into the atmosphere during the night. Even a gusty wind keeps the temperature from plummeting by churning the warmer air so much that it can't float into space, he said.
A cloudless night, Bowman said, "is like lying in bed without a blanket. You get colder faster. That's kind of what happened last night."
Rain could hit the area as soon as late Monday night and is expected to linger through Wednesday, forecasters said.
In Central California, frustrated police and fire dispatchers were deluged with calls from people, tying up emergency 911 lines, wanting to know if Interstate 5 was open in Southern California. They worried about driving over the mountainous Grapevine, which was closed earlier by snow and screeching winds.
Asking for Forecasts
"They were asking us to be weather forecasters and tell them when it would snow enough again to close Interstate 5 over the Tehachapi Mountains," said a Kings County dispatcher.
The cold weather was blamed for at least 50 frozen water pipes at homes throughout Los Angeles, said Department of Water and Power spokesman Ed Freudenburg. Workers at the Antelope Valley Country Club used space heaters to thaw their frozen water line Saturday afternoon.
As usual the cold weather didn't faze the surfers even though the water was a biting 53 degrees--rare even for winter.
"It's not cold when you go in," observed lifeguard Steve Wood stationed at Hermosa Beach said. "It just burns. All your pores start to tingle."
Elsewhere, the high and lows in Woodland Hills was 58 and 26; Torrance, 58 and 32; Santa Monica 57 and 38; San Diego, 57 and 37; Pasadena, 56 and 32; Ontario 53 and 27, and Lancaster 49 and 17.
In San Diego County, another freeze warning was issued for overnight Saturday for county fruit and vegetable growers. National Weather Service forecasters said that temperatures would be about three degrees warmer than Friday night but still in the mid-20s in coldest locations.
Times staff writers Danny Sullivan and Doug Brown in Orange County and Lynn Steinberg in Los Angeles contributed to this story.