Mother Nature played a joke Thursday on sun-starved Orange County residents, delivering a taste of summer in mid-January.
The punch line will come tonight when winter is expected to return with a new wave of cold wind and possible rain.
So much for an early thaw.
Forecasters predict a 50% chance of rain overnight into Saturday morning with an even greater likelihood of showers Sunday as a series of fast-moving Pacific fronts sweep across the region.
Today's temperatures should be 10 to 12 degrees cooler than Thursday, when highs hovered near 80 in portions of central and north Orange County, prompting some to play hooky.
Lives for Sun
"Anytime it's like this," explained Jill Southern, sunning herself outside the Santa Ana Courthouse, "I cancel all lunch plans and head outside."
Southern, a law clerk, said she "lives for the sun," and carries the tools of her avocation in her Volkswagen convertible: A beach chair, a pair of imported sunglasses and tanning oil.
"That's the beauty of Southern California," a shoeless Southern said, positioned perfectly to maximize the noontime sun. "You never know when summer will show up."
Indeed it was Southern's lucky day because Santa Ana was the county's hot spot, topping out at 79 degrees after an overnight low of 43.
It was warm, but not a record for Jan. 14. That was 88 degrees, set in 1975 in Anaheim.
Elsewhere in the county, the mercury climbed out of the 40s to hit 74 in El Toro, 73 at John Wayne Airport and 67 in Newport Beach.
On the sand, lifeguards reported near perfect conditions at beaches from San Clemente to Seal Beach. But there were few takers, despite weeks of cool, at times wet, conditions.
'They Got a Bonus'
"It takes more than one day of good weather to get people here," one Huntington Beach lifeguard said. "Most people are still thinking snow. . . . But for those who guessed right and showed up today, they got a bonus."
Temperatures did top 80 degrees at the Los Angeles Civic Center. The hot spot in the nation was Santee in San Diego County, which had an afternoon reading of 83, said meterologist Dave Beusterien of WeatherData, which provides forecasts for The Times.
But forecasters say it was only a tease.
Thursday's weak Santa Ana wind conditions that warmed up the region are expected to give way to a stronger onshore flow. With it will come temperatures in the upper 60s at best, and a better-than-average chance of rain tonight, said WeatherData meterologist Dan Bowman.
Partial clearing is expected Saturday afternoon before the second front arrives.
"That's the one that looks wet, real wet," Bowman said, predicting a 70% chance of showers most of Sunday. "It looks like your warm weather was good for a day and that's it."
Speeds the Melting
That's bad news for those who like shorts and tank tops, but it's definitely good news for ski resort operators.
While resorts in the central and northern Sierra are reporting plenty of snow, their counterparts in the Southern California mountains need a fresh coat.