With Orange County's reputation for sunshine and warm weather, who would bother to notice the official start of the season?
Well, summer is going to grab everyone's attention today, as the opening of the season brings with it sizzling temperatures that are forecast to climb to 105 degrees.
The sudden surge of the mercury--up from Tuesday's high temperature of 86 degrees in Santa Ana--is caused by a high-pressure area that is forcing scorching Santa Ana winds from the Great Basin of Nevada and Utah through Orange County and toward the ocean, according to meteorologist Rick Dittmann of WeatherData Inc., which provides forecasts for The Times.
"It's going to be some hot spell," Dittmann said, adding that highs above 104 degrees are expected to continue through at least Thursday. Orange County's high temperature to date this year was 104 degrees recorded on April 5.
With the hot weather came a series of brush fires around Southern California, including a 60-acre blaze in rough terrain northeast of San Clemente that
broke out Tuesday afternoon. Orange County firefighters brought the fast-moving blaze near Cristianitos Road under control late Tuesday night.
No structures were burned and there were no injuries reported. The blaze began about 2:20 p.m. north of the TRW facility near Ortega Highway and moved east into a nearby canyon. Orange County Fire Department officials said that firefighters had a difficult time encircling the blaze because of the steep hills in the remote canyon area.
The unusually warm weather sent thousands to Orange County beaches.
"Yesterday, it was chilly (but) this is perfect weather," said veteran Laguna Beach observer Arlene Mistretta, who goes for a three-mile walk along the sand each afternoon.
Mistretta, who teaches school in Ontario, added: "You bet I'm looking forward to summer."
Soayda Astana, 21, of El Monte said "the sun and hot weather" drove her to Laguna Beach and the refreshing surf on Tuesday. "The water hurts when it hits you--it's that cold," she said, adding: "I plan to be back here every weekend."
A little warm weather didn't bother the Polar Bears, a rag-tag team of street hockey players who batted a ball around the blacktop at Santiago Elementary School in Santa Ana and vowed to play through the summer, no matter how high the temperature. Goalies on the team wore foam-rubber cushions for chest pads, and players, ages 8 to 16, careened on roller skates and sneakers.
"Hockey is my life," explained Ethan Fry, 14, who marked the last day of classes at Foothill High School Tuesday as the start of his sports career. "We don't care if it gets hot."
The team name, the boys said, was chosen for the bear's toughness and ease on ice--something the Polar Bears of Santa Ana could only dream of Tuesday.
And besides, Joey Solis, 15, said: "We saw a cool picture of a polar bear. We're bad ice dudes."
Nearby construction workers shared the Bears' cool demeanor Tuesday. Robert Smith, foreman of a crew that was installing water lines to a fast-food restaurant under construction at 17th and Bristol streets, said Tuesday's heat was no problem. The predicted broiling sunshine on Wednesday and Thursday, however, could be another story, the workers said.
"I'm used to working construction in Arizona, and compared to there, this is cool," Smith said. "This isn't tough at all--but over 100 is bad. Real bad."
Government workers who searched for shade at lunchtime in Santa Ana's Civic Center Plaza Tuesday said they felt wilted already.
"When it starts getting this hot this early, it's going to be a really hot summer," said Mary Urias, a data operator for the state Department of Social Services. "I think our summer is starting early."
"The weather seems weirder than it used to," suggested state worker Julie Weismann. "And California has always been weird."
Next to shade, the biggest draws in the plaza Tuesday were a fountain, which sprayed cool mist 15 feet into the air, and a family of homesteading ducks. Workers in the surrounding government office buildings left bird seed for the ducks and built a bridge of sorts so that seven ducklings could follow their mother in and out of the fountain pool.
"We work four or five buildings down, and we came here because we heard there were baby ducks in the fountain," said Kingston Thomas, a planner with the county's Environmental Management Agency.
"It's cooler by the fountain, because you can feel the water when the wind blows," said Mary Wardle, a cartographer with the EMA. "That's something the ducks don't have to worry about."
Times staff writer George Frank contributed to this story.