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Weather turns by degree, direction

In the Southland's microclimates, a short car trip can have you chilling at the beach or baking over that ridge.

September 01, 2007|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

It's just 10 miles on the map. But the thermometer will tell you that Friday afternoon, the road through Topanga Canyon stretched from heaven to hell.

On one side of the Santa Monica Mountains, it was an almost-chilly 77 degrees. On the other side, it was a withering 107.

In between, there was no middle ground. It was just plain hot.

At the Santa Monica Pier, retired truck driver German Kravchenko, 73, of Los Angeles faced the sea breeze in a button-down, long-sleeved Abercrombie & Fitch shirt as he lazed on a bench and waited for dinner to nibble at the fishing line he dangled over the railing.

It was 1 p.m., and the temperature had climbed to 78.

"It's not hot. It's not cold. It's perfect, the kind of day everybody likes," he said contentedly as he watched a pleasure boat in the distance. "Absolutely perfect."

A few blocks away, Allison Littman cradled a piping hot nonfat latte outside a Montana Avenue Starbucks. It was 82 degrees at the shop's outdoor table, and she was thinking about heading to the beach in midafternoon, when it was a bit warmer.

Littman, 23, a graduate psychology student from Chicago, was pleased to escape the Labor Day weekend humidity of the Midwest. And it can get hot there too, she said. "The temperature here today is very pleasant," she added.

Southern California is a land of microclimates, with huge weather variables that become most pronounced during the summer.

The region is in Day Four of a heat wave that is expected to continue through the weekend. For such areas as Woodland Hills -- considered a particularly hot spot because the Santa Monica Mountains block the sea breeze -- that means more days of triple-digit temperatures. For the beach communities, it means more mild conditions.

A few miles up the coast from the Santa Monica Pier, boutique clerk Karena Meyer, 21, of Agoura Hill had a hooded sweatshirt pulled over her blond hair. The thermometer said 81 shortly after 2 p.m. outside the Free City store at the Malibu Country Mart, a small shopping center next to the Malibu Lagoon.

"It's cold in there where I work," Meyer said. "But it's so hot where I live that it's ridiculous. On my day off yesterday it was horrible. I stayed in the house all day. I didn't go anywhere, because it was too hot to do anything. I'd rather have been at work."

The temperature change can be brutally stark traveling from work to home, she said.

"The air conditioner is broken in my 1994 Lincoln, and I can't afford to fix it," she said. "Halfway through the canyon you can feel it hit you when get to the heat."

On Friday, that hot point seemed to be Topanga Canyon Boulevard's famed S curves, about three miles north of the ocean. There, the thermometer shot up past 83 degrees. And several miles later -- at the intersection of the boulevard and Old Topanga Canyon Road -- it was 99.

"The farther north you go the hotter it gets," said UPS driver Scott Hicks, 37, who was making a delivery to an art gallery in the Pine Tree Circle shopping center on the corner.

There is no air conditioning in his brown delivery truck; it would serve no purpose with the vehicle's huge doors.

Anyway, "when you go in and out of air conditioning all day long, it can be a shock to your system," Hicks said with a shrug.

"I try to make my Valley deliveries first, when it's earlier in the day and cooler," said Hicks, a Woodland Hills resident. "When you come down into Topanga, you can feel it getting cooler the farther down you come."

Proof of that was about two miles up the canyon, at Lance Roberts' restaurant. His Froggy's is in Topanga's original one-room schoolhouse, a sturdy structure built with 18-inch-thick masonry walls in 1925. It has plenty of funky charm -- but no air conditioning. And at 3 p.m., the temperature was about 106 degrees outside.

"I turn on the fans and open the windows," said the 56-year-old Roberts, who has lived in the canyon for 40 years. "People who come here from the Valley talk about how cool it is here. Customers from farther down in the canyon talk about how hot it is here. That's because it's a good 10 degrees cooler down in the Fernwood area" south of the intersection of Topanga and Old Topanga.

A cooling ocean breeze sweeps up the canyon, past Fernwood and into Froggy's, about 7 o'clock each night, Roberts said.

A mile or so farther up the canyon, actor Nick Jameson sat on the front porch of Pat's Topanga Grill, nursing an iced coffee at 3:15 p.m. as the temperature hovered at 107. He was looking for a midafternoon caffeine boost, he said.

"I don't know if it's working in this heat," said Jameson, a Topanga resident whose credits include playing the president of Russia on the TV series "24."

"I'm a slave to air conditioning," he confessed.

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