LOS ANGELES — While people in some other parts of the country are watching the leaves turn a kaleidoscope of fall colors as they contemplate unpacking winter clothes, California is roasting under an autumn heat wave.
As high temperatures were ranging from the low 100s in Southern California to the 90s in the normally more temperate San Francisco Bay Area on Friday, National Weather Service forecasters warned it was just a warm-up for what lies ahead this weekend.
"We're looking for it to peak tomorrow," said Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service, adding that some high-temperature records could fall Saturday. In the coastal city of Santa Maria, three hours north of Los Angeles, Friday's 100-degree reading tied a record for the date set in 1985.
SO WHY IS IT SO HOT, ANYWAY?
Blame the Santa Ana Winds, those chameleon-like gusts that start out icy cold in the Great Basin region of Utah and Nevada, but by the time they race across deserts and down mountain canyons and arrive in Southern California they are hot as ... well, you know.
HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO OTHER AREAS?
Usually during a heat wave Southern Californians can tell themselves, "Well, it's hotter in Arizona and Death Valley." Not this time. By mid-afternoon Friday, it was 99 in Long Beach, the same as the temperature in Death Valley, California, which calls itself the hottest place on the planet. It was 95 in Phoenix.
SO JUST HOW UNUSUAL IS THIS?
Unusual but not unprecedented. Although temperatures for this time of year are normally in the high 70s, it reached 108 in Los Angeles on Oct. 3, 1987, and again the next day. "It's hot but not record-breaking hot," says Seto. Not yet, anyway. LA's Woodland Hills neighborhood could surpass 108 degrees Saturday.
HOW ARE AUTHORITIES RESPONDING?
Los Angeles County is opening dozens of cooling centers at places like libraries and community centers. The Long Beach Unified School District sent its 76,000 students home an hour early on Thursday and Friday to get them out of class before the hottest part of the day. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is urging people to set thermostats at 78 degrees. With wildfire danger high across much of the state, the Los Angeles County Fire Department has beefed up many of its firefighting crews from three to four people and stationed extra equipment in strategic locations. "We've got wind, heat, the perfect combination, everything in alignment for a potential brushfire," fire Capt. Rich Moody said Friday as he and his crew patrolled a Southern California hillside.
HOW ARE SOME PEOPLE HANDLING THE HEAT?
Perry Mann, who dresses as a pirate and poses for pictures with tourists on Hollywood Boulevard may have come up with the most innovative solution. On Thursday he packed his body with frozen water bottles and greeted people by telling them, "I'm frozen in ice from the Antarctic." When the ice melted, he drank it. When it ran out, he went home.
WHILE CALIFORNIA BAKES, WHAT IS GOING ON ELSEWHERE?
As Los Angeles County lifeguards prepared for hundreds of thousands of people to storm the beaches — "It should be like a summer weekend," said Chief Lifeguard Steve Moseley — New York's Fall Foliage report predicted that autumn leaves in the Adirondack and Catskill mountains could be at their most spectacular this weekend. Meanwhile, in Madison, Wisconsin, temperatures were in freefall. They dropped from highs in the 80s last week to the 50s on Friday, with a forecast for sleet or snow by Saturday.