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Basking in the warm Southland sunshine

January 14, 2008|Francisco Vara-Orta, Christian Berthelsen and Rich Connell | Times Staff Writers

You may have failed to notice, but the weather Sunday in the coastal mill town of Port Talbot, South Wales, was a rather dreary muck of wet wind and temperatures peaking in the 40s.

That's why 70-year-old Joyce Wilkens was thrilled. She was half a world away from her United Kingdom home, soaking up Southern California's brilliant blue skies and balmy breezes as she strolled through the Grove shopping center on the Westside.

"Where we are from, it rains all the time," said Wilkins, midway through a two-week Los Angeles stay. "It's my first time visiting California, and it's been as beautiful as I expected it."

We sort of expect it too.

So it was easy to overlook how Sunday's mid-January riot of sunshine was such a marvel to folks from more challenging climates.

Louise Rivas, a Detroit schoolteacher, couldn't wait to get out her shorts and sun visor. Her hometown was being battered by a sleety mix of rain and snow Sunday.

"You Californians can virtually take a vacation any time you want," said Rivas, who was shopping on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade. "The rest of us in the country wait months for this kind of weather."

In a pastel-blue polo, Maui sun visor and capris, Rivas was toting three large shopping bags while her 10-year-old daughter Jennifer browsed a trendy store.

"I'd love to wear light clothing every day if I could," she said.

When Mike Maidl left Portland, Ore., on Thursday, it was in the mid-40s and raining. On Sunday, he was celebrating his 60th birthday with his family at the Huntington Beach pier, watching his son catch waves below.

"This is the first sun we've seen since Thanksgiving," he said. "We don't want to go back."

Also enjoying the pier were Scott Franta and his wife, Sharon. They arrived Saturday from Roseville, Minn., where it was 20 degrees and snowing. Their plane had to be de-iced before they took off. "I've never been to California before," said Franta, 43, soaking up an idyllic scene that city fathers have officially branded Surf City, USA. "This is about what I pictured."

Back at The Grove, Mike Dalton and his wife, Suzanne, also from Minnesota, were in town for an extended weekend.

With Southern California temperatures pushing into the low 80s in some areas, the Daltons were rationing their hours of warmth.

"Today, Suzanne gets some shopping at all the nice, sunny outdoor malls," said Dalton, a 34-year-old sporting goods store manager. He was trying to schedule time for Malibu beaches and mountain hiking. "Tomorrow, I'm hoping to get some exercise . . . take advantage of all that sun."

The postcard weather, expected to last through today before cooling down slightly, was courtesy of desert winds flowing into Los Angeles and Orange counties from the north and the east.

The offshore winds swept skies clean, delivered panoramic snow-capped mountain views and warmed beaches into the 70s.

"Exactly what we dream of," said Bill Patzert, a climatologist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge.

"This is a good as it gets in January in California," Patzert said.

In Los Angeles County, the highest temperature was 80 degrees in Hawthorne. A number of other cities were not far behind, including Burbank, where the high was 79.

Patzert said the warm spell is a typical "Santa Ana light" condition that pumps dry air into the Los Angeles Basin, but said it brings little danger of brush fires because hills have been soaked by recent rains.

Gusts of 30 to 40 miles per hour in desert and mountain passes were creating hazards for motorists, especially in the Cajon Pass on Interstate 15, the main route from Southern California to Las Vegas. The National Weather Service issued wind advisories for the coastal and mountain canyon areas through tomorrow afternoon.

At the National Weather Service, meteorologist Curt Kaplan said conditions were in place for a return to strong Santa Ana winds beginning Wednesday night and continuing into Thursday.

"This one looks like it will be widespread," he said, suggesting the conditions could run from San Bernardino County through Los Angeles County and into Ventura County.

francisco.varaorta@ latimes.com

christian.berthelsen@ latimes.com

rich.connell@latimes.com

Times Staff Writer Greg Krikorian contributed to this report

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