Bone-chilling overnight low temperatures that may have been to blame for at least five deaths, including one in Orange County, should ease somewhat this weekend, forecasters said Thursday.
A slight warming trend is predicted today, but another rainstorm may hit Orange County by Saturday or early Sunday morning, forecasters said.
The mercury dropped to 29 degrees in San Juan Capistrano early Thursday and to 31 in Santa Ana, said Rick Dittmann, a meteorologist with WeatherData Inc., which provides forecasts for The Times.
Elsewhere in Southern California, the possible weather damage was still being studied. Agriculture officials said it would take several days to determine whether any crops had been damaged by the cold weather.
Frigid temperatures have driven hundreds of people into emergency shelters since last Friday and may have contributed to the deaths of one man in south Orange County, one in Santa Barbara County and three people in Los Angeles County.
Found Along Road
The Orange County victim was a 36-year-old man from the Los Angeles area whose identity was being withheld because relatives had not been notified, said Rick Plows, supervising deputy coroner with the Orange County coroner's office.
Plows said the man's body was found Monday afternoon along a rural road about a mile from Coto de Caza, east of Mission Viejo. The victim was wearing clothes and had a jacket lying nearby, Plows said.
"The cause of death is still pending," Plows said. "More tests are being run, and it may be 1 to 3 months before we know (what killed the man). Nothing has been ruled out or ruled in.
"It may be hypothermia (extreme loss of body heat), but we don't know for sure at this point."
Dittmann, in his forecast for Orange County, said the area should enjoy warmer temperatures today.
Cold May Return
Overnight lows this morning were expected to be in the 40s along the coast, with inland areas dropping to the mid-30s.
"Winds Thursday mixed the air up a lot, and that helped," Dittmann said. "Also, some high pressure in the upper atmosphere will make today's low temperatures warmer than what we've had."
The cold is likely to return Sunday night, he said, with lows mainly in the 30s. But some protected valleys could drop into the 20s.
"That could all change, depending on the cloud cover and winds," Dittmann said.
Clouds, he explained, help to retain heat at the surface, and winds help mix warm and cold air, keeping low temperatures warmer.
When drought-ridden 1988 surrenders Saturday night to 1989, the new kid on the block will be wearing a soggy diaper.
Clear, sunny skies today, with high temperatures ranging from the upper 50s to the low 60s, will give way to increasing clouds tonight and Saturday, with a good chance of rain, Dittmann said.
"High temperatures will be a few degrees lower on Saturday, and the showers will taper off Saturday night," Dittmann said. "But it's possible to see a few more showers Sunday morning."
The wet weather will come from the same cold front, bearing down from the Gulf of Alaska, that has left the Southland unseasonably cold, Dittmann said.
The cold, however, should be a boon to ski operators as snow levels drop to 3,500 feet in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains.
The front should pass through the Los Angeles Basin on Saturday, but an unstable air mass trailing it has enough moisture to provide a few showers on Sunday.
Skies should clear by Sunday evening, with gusty winds out of the north and northeast. High temperatures will be in the 50s throughout the basin.