Playgrounds emptied, pools overflowed and the hum of the noble air conditioner echoed over the land as another Southern California summer settled into high gear Monday with more record-breaking heat.
By midafternoon, the temperatures had hit 95 in Fullerton and topped 100 degrees in the inland valleys, and the National Weather Service had issued a rare "excessive heat" advisory. Forecasters said people should stay out of the afternoon sun through Wednesday, especially if they are elderly.
The Weather Service warned that the level of ultraviolet radiation was so high that a fair-skinned person couldn't expect to spend more than four minutes in the sun without getting burned. School classes let out early in some parts of the region. And the Automobile Club of Southern California cautioned motorists to check their cars' belts and batteries and coolant tanks.
Although temperatures in Orange County fell short of the record for Aug. 4, set by a 99-degree Santa Ana heat wave in 1957, the mercury wasn't shy.
Temperatures hit 92 in Santa Ana and Anaheim, 90 in San Juan Capistrano and 88 at John Wayne Airport.
Relief came only in the beach cities, with Newport Beach reaching only 72 degrees, said John Sherwin, a spokesman for WeatherData, which provides forecasts for The Times.
Similar temperatures are expected today.
Meteorologists blamed a high-pressure system that has hovered since the weekend over the West Coast and is not expected to abate until week's end.
Which was good news for air-conditioning companies.
At Empire Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning in Orange County, a dispatcher who had taken more than 150 calls Monday said, "They just want air--and they want it now."
Likewise, new arrivals at the Fullerton city pool in Independence Park "looked relieved walking up to the window, knowing they'd be in the pool," said Erin McFarland, a ticket seller. An unusual number of ticket buyers for an August afternoon, she said, were adults.
"Maybe everyone decided it was too hot to go to work."
Employees at the Orange County courthouse had a particularly stultifying Monday morning: Someone had turned off the air conditioning over the weekend and had forgotten to turn it back on.
For East Los Angeles snow-cone vendor Jose Hernandez, this was good news.
"First June, then July, and now--finally--el calor," he exulted, pushing his cart down Soto Street.
But most Southern Californians sided with Hernandez's customer, Marta Bravo, 28.
"Ay, two days of this heat is already too much," the sweltering woman moaned, biting into a frosty lemon ice.
How hot was it?
So hot that a bunch of teenagers waiting for a bus in Pasadena at noon got singed by the bus bench and were forced to wait, squatting, in the shade of a little tree.
So hot that the Shetland ponies at a petting zoo in Koreatown were being rubbed down with wet rags, even in the shade.
So hot that at Liggett Elementary School in Panorama City, where summer school was in session, the thermometer in a classroom without air conditioning stood at 95 degrees by 11 a.m.
So hot that at Pecan Park in Boyle Heights, the swings hung empty, while the nearby public pool was jammed. On a patch of scorched grass, recreation aide Jerry Miranda, 26, struggled to breathe shape into an inflatable kiddie pool.
"Man," he panted, dripping sweat, "we really need a good air pump." At his feet, sticky children sat expectantly, too hot to speak.
Temperatures in some parts of the region broke records for the date. In Woodland Hills, for example, Monday's 104-degree heat made it the hottest Aug. 4 in 14 years.
Throughout the San Fernando Valley, campuses where summer school is in session canceled outdoor physical education classes and announced plans to have students double up in air-conditioned rooms in those schools where not every classroom has a cooler yet.
Other readings Monday included 108 in Chatsworth and 103 in Pasadena, breaking records there. The high at the Los Angeles Civic Center was 91, three degrees short of the record high in 1971.
The San Gabriel Valley was just as bad. It was 106 in Monrovia. Sherwin said temperatures are expected to drop a bit by Thursday but will remain relatively high throughout the week. Clear and hot weather is forecast for the region, with highs from the upper 80s on the coast to 100 and above in the inland valleys.
The reason, he said, is a ridge of high pressure that has extended from the surface up into the upper atmosphere and that has inhibited the sea breezes that usually cool the region.
"Plus," Sherwin said, "it's August."
Though August marks the last lap of summer in many parts of the nation, it is traditionally the height of summer here. By August, the morning haze has usually burned away, and the days are hot from dawn until dusk.
So, although Southern Californians tend to forget it from one year to the next, hot spells are routine. Nonetheless, the temperatures were sufficient to prompt the Weather Service to issue an unusual "excessive heat warning" for coastal and inland valleys and all mountain areas of Southern California.
The warnings, which are in effect for the afternoon hours through Wednesday, are issued when the combination of heat and humidity reaches a dangerous index. Meteorologists say only about half a dozen are issued each year; this is the first for 1997.
"It has to be pretty darn warm to have one of these things," said Weather Service meteorologist Rob Krohn. "It basically means that you shouldn't go outside, especially if you're elderly. And if you do have to go out, drink a lot of water."
Contributing to this report were Times staff writers Shawn Hubler, Eric Malnic and David Colker and correspondents Kevin O'Leary, Jack Leonard and Tracy Johnson.