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Dec. 26 Low of 35 Ties Mark Set in 1881

December 27, 1987|LYNN O'SHAUGHNESSY and LYNN STEINBERG | Times Staff Writers

The last time the mercury dropped so low on Dec. 26 in Los Angeles, 11,000 people lived here, houses were selling for $1,200 and the automobile had not yet arrived on the scene.

At 6:15 a.m. Saturday, the temperature at the Civic Center recorded 35 degrees--tying a record set on Dec. 26, 1881.

During the last 97 years, the temperature has only dipped below 40 degrees seven times on that date.

The strange weather set off a flurry of minor traffic accidents on icy roads, sent the homeless scurrying for shelter, froze water pipes, triggered some chimney fires and threatened oranges, avocado and other crops.

Second Cold Snap

It was the second cold snap in little more than a week for Southern California residents, who will probably be swapping their winters coats for umbrellas as early as Monday night, weather forecasters predict.

"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.

Bowman blamed the frigid 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 not float away.

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."

Temperatures were expected to once again hover in the mid-30s overnight in Los Angeles, while a freeze warning will remain in effect through tonight for agricultural areas in Southern Calif1869770345at night.

Rain could hit the area as soon as late Monday night and is expected to linger through Wednesday, forecasters said.

It was a rough night for the homeless, but it could have been much worse. When the downtown shelters filled up quickly, employees from the city of Los Angeles plucked up dozens of street people and drove them to recreation centers in Elysian Park, Venice and Pacoima to spend the night on cots. They were fed doughnuts and coffee in the morning and driven back to the streets at 7 a.m.

Holiday Gesture

The recreation centers, available from Thursday through tonight, were opened because of the chilly weather and as a good-will holiday gesture, said Joseph C. Dickson, director of the Pacoima Recreation Center.

Other homeless had to rely on their own ingenuity to stay warm. Many gravitated to a Skid Row theater--which runs movies all night long for a $2 ticket--until all the seats were sold. Others congregated around bonfires stoked in blackened mesh trash cans until the police ordered them extinguished.

And a small cardboard community sprung up along Los Angeles Street in downtown. About three dozen people camped out on the sidewalk in a collection of shelters rigged with cardboard, plastic sheeting and tarpaulin.

"Honey, it was cold outside, but it was like a heater in my little house," said Dee Jones, 28, as he sorted the sweaters, turtlenecks and blankets that had lined his cardboard hut.

Heating System Faltered

Meanwhile, the heating system at Angeles Plaza, a 1,500-unit senior citizens' complex, faltered, alternately leaving about 250 apartments without heat from Thursday to Saturday, security guard Raymond Vandenberg said.

"I didn't get out of bed for two days because it was so cold," complained Jeanne Barrett, a 70-year-old resident, who kept her oven on. "It ruined my whole Christmas."

The record cold temperatures kept a lot of farmers up during the night, but agriculture experts said it will not be known until later whether there will be extensive damage. Growers used orchard heaters and wind machines to warm their fields.

"They shivered a little bit the last few nights, but it's too early to tell if there's damage," said Richard Kelley, who grows oranges and grapefruit on 150 acres in Hemet, where temperatures plunged to 25 degrees Friday and 22 degrees on Christmas Eve.

'Some Damage'

"If you get down to 24 degrees with no fluctuations for three or four hours, you'll have some damage," Kelley said. "I wouldn't want to sit on 24 degrees all night long."

Jack Christensen, who grows citrus on 300 acres in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, predicted losses in areas unprotected by the heating devices, but he could not predict how much.

In Orange County, the predawn temperatures dipped to 30 degrees, causing widespread damage to strawberry fields and lesser damage to nursery plants, an agent for the University of California Agricultural Extension Service in Irvine said.

"To wash the ice off the leaves, we ran sprinklers for 15 minutes this morning begining at 5 a.m.," said Luis Velati, a supervisor at an Irvine nursery.

An icy film also coated freeway interchanges, roads and sidewalks Saturday morning, causing at least five minor traffic collisions in the San Fernando Valley as cars slipped out of control, authorities said.

'It Was Slippery'

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