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I Think It Might Rain

Wet outside? Don't just reach for the remote. Put raincoats on your kids and go in search of water beetles or any of these rainy-day adventures.

February 01, 2001|VALERIE J. NELSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The weather of Joe Sirard's childhood was one vast teachable moment, as big as the cloud-spotted sky he made a habit of peering up at. He kept a weather journal. He named the storms of his youth, making them his own like so many baseball cards.

"I still recall what I dubbed the 'northwest blizzard of '81,' in which strong northwest winds and heavy snow affected my hometown of Oxford, Mass.," says Sirard, who was 15 that December day. "As you can well imagine, I was a weather freak, a weather geek, a weather weenie. Actually, I still am."

The boy who kept a record of "nasty and notable weather events" grew up to be a meteorologist for the U.S. National Weather Service in Oxnard. As he ticks off the wonders--yes, wonders--of Southern California's weather, he sounds as if he's trying to convince the folks back home of the need for weather forecasters here.

"The wide variety of weather is in stark contrast to the picture of beautiful, sunny weather 365 days a year that people in other states envision we have," Sirard proclaims.

There are plenty of moments for parent and child to peer up at the sky.

These 15 rainy-day things to do look for the silver lining in coming (or ending) rainstorms by linking the activity, however subtly, to weather or water. Chase after rain beetles whose relatives were held sacred by ancient Egyptians or watch a chimpanzee prance around puddles. Dodge the drizzle while wielding a sand pail at a thoroughly dry indoor beach.

Seize the deluge and turn it into a teachable moment.

Marsh Madness: Without the rain, the Madrona Marsh Preserve in Torrance wouldn't exist. Spring is prime time at the 50-acre preserve just east of the Del Amo Fashion Center.

"It's a unique experience for a city. We've got a pretty good pond of water out there right now," says Walton Wright, a naturalist with the city of Torrance, who admits to pumping water in to raise the water level when nature doesn't do the job.

While the kids like to catch tree frogs, the adults prefer bird-watching, Wright says. On a recent winter day, about 150 mallards dotted the marsh, which covers about 16 acres when flooded. On March 11, one-hour canoe rides will be given from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; reservations are recommended.

"We'll get 10 or 12 canoes out there and paddle all around the cattails," Wright says, "But most of the ducks flip out and get scared away."

* Activities and classes meet at the Temporary Natural History Center, 3201 Plaza Del Amo Blvd., Torrance. Call (310) 782-3989 or visit http://www.tprd.torrnet.com/marsh.htm.

Sleep With the Fishes: If you're waterlogged, you might as well have some pretty big company. Join "Lifestyles of the Fish and Famous," the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific's Friday night family sleepovers for ages 5 and up. Bring your sleeping bag and settle in to spend the night in front of the aquarium's 350,000-gallon tropical reef exhibit.

While surrounded by more than 12,000 ocean animals, you'll learn that land-based families aren't the only ones that struggle with relationships. "The ocean is full of animals that depend on family members to teach them survival strategies; it is also full of animals that depend on odd friendships throughout their lives," says a release describing the program.

* Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, Shoreline Drive and Aquarium Way, Long Beach. Next sleepovers are Feb. 9 and March 9. Preregistration required. $50 per person. (562) 951-1630.

Animated Animals: Cooler weather makes the animals at the Los Angeles Zoo more active, and rain makes some of them practically want to dance, says Lora LaMarca, a zoo spokeswoman.

"When it rains, we leave their bedroom doors open, and they can come out or stay in. The great apes, chimpanzees, gorillas, especially the young ones, like to play in the showers," she says.

She recommends dressing for the weather because the zoo's only true indoor enclosure is the koala house. An indoor concession stand also provides refuge from the rain.

* Los Angeles Zoo, Griffith Park at Ventura and Golden State freeways. (323) 644-6400.

More Wild Things: The same wet-is-wilder theory applies at San Diego Wild Animal Park, where the hard-to-see lions and tigers that are usually more active at night rise for the wet weather.

"When the rain is a little warm, the primates also get really active and play, and that can be great fun to watch," says Christina Simmons, a park spokeswoman. "The animals are running around playing, enjoying the change in the weather."

The animals, kept in outdoor field enclosures, also can be viewed from the relatively weatherproof monorail tour, with open sides and a rain-repelling roof.

* San Diego Wild Animal Park, 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido. (619) 234-6541 or (760) 747-8702.

Fantasy Land: Disneyland in a downpour? Savvy park-goers know people stay away in droves when it rains on Main Street U.S.A.

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