Record and near-record high temperatures drove thousands of people to Orange County beaches Tuesday, some to escape the heat and others to celebrate the end of an unusually gloomy winter and early spring.
"It's a palm tree and Popsicle day," said Scott Diedrich, a lifeguard at Laguna Beach, where as many as 5,000 people spread blankets or played volleyball in swimwear and T-shirts. The crowd was more than double the typical turnout for a weekday in April, Diedrich said. The reason: "It's absolutely gorgeous."
The county's highest temperature was in Santa Ana, which hit 98 degrees--a record there for the date and just one degree below the nation's high of 99 in Death Valley. Santa Ana's previous high for April 24 was 86 in 1995, said Eric Edge, a meteorologist with Weather Central, which provides forecasts to The Times. "It does look a little warm out there," Edge said.
Other Orange County highs--but not records--were 97 in Westminster, Mission Viejo and Placentia; 96 in Yorba Linda, Irvine and Orange; and 94 in Fullerton and Anaheim.
Edge said the heat is likely to linger today, followed by a slight cooling to the low 80s inland and mid-60s along the coast Thursday, Friday and through the weekend.
"This would indicate that we are exiting the winter months," he said. "You're starting to see the ending of cooler temperatures."
The approach of summer was evident at the county's beaches, where sea breezes wafted the aroma of sunscreen and tanning oil.
"I feel really good," said Christine Clarke, 27, a waitress from Newport Beach. She confided that she wore her bathing suit under her restaurant uniform so she could hit the sand at Laguna Beach directly after work. "I was supposed to go home to do my laundry," she said, "but it was too beautiful a day."
Some beachgoers grumbled about the ocean closure still in effect along about a mile of Laguna Beach from Thalia Street to Diver Cove. Prompted by a sewage spill Monday, the closure is expected to last at least through today, officials said.
That hardly dampened the enthusiasm of sunbathers at the city's Main Beach.
Michelle Mercier, 20, of Costa Mesa welcomed the preview of summer. "Aside from the contaminated water," she said, "the day is perfect. It's funny that it was raining just the other day. The thing about California is that you get everything."