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Santa Anas Sweep Winter Aside

Temperatures hit a record high of 85 in Burbank and Simi Valley as the Southland dries out after a wet December.

January 06, 2003|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

Move over, El Nino. The Santa Anas are back, at least for a few days.

After a soggy December that brought 3.32 inches of rain to Los Angeles, the first weekend of the new year brought a heat wave that broke or tied records in five cities and pushed temperatures into the 80s across much of the region. Sunday was one of those rare days when it was warm enough for swimsuits at the beaches and T-shirts on the slopes of the local ski resorts.

Downtown Los Angeles reached 81 Sunday, and today could challenge the record for Jan. 6 of 87, set in 1996, according to the National Weather Service.

On Sunday, the temperature hit 85 in Simi Valley and Burbank, a record for the day in both cities. With a high of 81, Oxnard also had a record day. Lompoc, at 78 degrees, and Torrance, at 76 degrees, tied their records.

The Santa Anas -- hot desert breezes that blow from the east into the Southland -- also led forecasters to warn of extreme high winds in the deserts and mountains of Southern California today and Tuesday morning, with gusts possibly reaching 70 mph in some areas.

Drivers of high-profile vehicles were urged to use caution, particularly on roads in the wide-open expanses of the Mojave Desert.

Last winter also began wet and then turned bone dry after Jan. 1. But this year is supposed to be different, with the expected return of the El Nino phenomenon that usually pushes a series of Pacific storms onshore throughout the season.

The meteorological wrinkle that provided the weekend's summer-like weather was a low-pressure system parked over the coast rubbing against a high-pressure system hunkered down over the desert. The colliding air masses are creating breezy conditions.

The heavy rains of El Nino may still be ahead.

"El Nino is typically a late-winter phenomenon in February and March. These [warm] patterns set up and last two or three weeks and then shift back to a wet pattern," said Bruce Rockwell, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Southern California's ski resorts are certainly hoping for the return of El Nino. In December, they received the snow they desperately needed -- 140 inches fell on Mammoth Mountain in the Eastern Sierra in the last two weeks of the month -- but the storms also made for frigid conditions for vacationers.

Saturday and Sunday offered a respite from the chill, with blue skies and unseasonably warm temperatures. Because there's rarely too much snow, most resort officials are waiting for the next storm.

"Now that the holidays are over, we would definitely like to see the storms start dropping our way again," said Brad Farmer, spokesman for Snow Summit and Bear Mountain ski resorts at Big Bear Lake. "We haven't made snow in three days because it has been just too warm at night."

The high winds and heat also mean that the region's wildfire season is not yet over. According to the National Weather Service, the early part of this week is likely to contain three conditions firefighters most despise: high temperatures, low humidity and extreme winds, all of which make it difficult to stop a blaze.

Southern California's most destructive wildfires have occurred during Santa Ana winds.

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