‘It’s just too hot’

Gripped by triple-digit heat, the South­land tries to stay cool. Death Val­ley hits 127.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Louis Sa­h­a­gun, Paloma Esquivel, Meg Bern­hard and Leila Miller

In Death Val­ley, the heat brought even the road­run­ners to a stop. They stood arched to the sky with their beaks wide open, as if in a stu­por, or in­dig­nant at what the sun was up to.

The land­scape blurred and un­du­lated. Peo­ple moved as if they were walk­ing through glue. When a light breeze came in the af­ter­noon, it stung their faces so badly they had to turn away from it. Wa­ter mains burst in the bak­ing dirt, while the “cold” tap wa­ter came out of faucets the tem­per­a­ture of a Jacuzzi.

Across much of in­land Cal­i­for­nia on Tues­day, air­con­di­tioned cars and build­ings cre­ated sealed mi­cro­cli­mates tol­er­a­ble to hu­mans, as a heat wave cen­tered over the South­west brought on sum­mer with a vengeance.

Tem­per­a­tures topped 100 in the val­leys and 120 in the low desert. Death Val­ley hit 127 — seven de­grees shy of the hottest day ever recorded on the planet.

Across the re­gion, peo­ple found refuge in malls, movie the­aters, li­braries, cool­ing cen­ters, pools, buses and the beach.

Oth­ers had no such lee­way.

Grape pick­ers in the Coachella Val­ley started be­fore dawn, but by 9 a.m. the tem­per­a­ture had topped 100 de­grees.

Fran­cis Re­sendiz, 36, wore a hat and hand­ker­chiefs over her neck and face. She had a duf­fel bag of frozen elec­trolyte drinks that would melt through­out her shift.

“Tomen agua,” shouted a fore­woman. Drink wa­ter.

Re­sendiz found some shade un­der the canopies of grape vines, but the leaves trapped hu­mid­ity.

“It starts to feel like you’re suf­fo­cat­ing,” she said.

In the West­side neigh­bor­hood of Bev­er­ly­wood, David John­son, a con­trac­tor for AT&T, geared up for a day of lift­ing equip­ment on power poles to re­place fiber-optic ca­bles. He took his wa­ter se­ri­ously.

“Hy­dra­tion starts the day be­fore,” he said.

Cal­i­for­nia’s var­ie­gated to­pog­ra­phy broke the heat wave a lit­tle. The cool Pa­cific kept the coast mild. The Sierra Ne­vada still had enough snow that skiers were hit­ting slushy moguls in bathing suits.

In fact, so much snow still packed the Sierra that the dry heat filled streams and creeks with melt­wa­ter, forc­ing the U.S. For­est Ser­vice to close some camp­grounds be­cause of flood­ing.

“Here’s the re­mark­able scene un­fold­ing along the eastern Sierra amid this heat wave,” said Deb Sch­weizer, a spokes­woman for the Inyo Na­tional For­est. “Snow is still heavy in higher el­e­va­tions; there’s some flood­ing at mid-level el­e­va­tions, and we’ve had a few brush fires down val­ley.”

On Santa Mon­ica beach, the last wisps of “June Gloom” re­fused to suc­cumb to the sun.

Some fam­i­lies were even dis­ap­pointed with the cool weather. Stacey Sanchez, 25, sat on a beach chair next to her hus­band, not at all im­pressed by the gray scene, as their 3-year-old daugh­ter played in the sand. They had the day off work and had driven from their home in Mon­te­bello for this grunge.

“We were ex­pect­ing to have the whole af­ter­noon, but since it’s a lit­tle cold, only an hour or two,” Sanchez said. “We’ll go home, take a shower, and then back to the air con­di­tioner.”

Straight over the Sepul­veda Pass, the tem­per­a­ture was 30 de­grees warmer, so much so that pa­trons at the Wood­land Hills Branch Li­brary stayed for hours to es­cape the heat.

Eric Verna, 44, hasn’t had a place to live in a few weeks. He had been driv­ing his car, wan­der­ing around any build­ing with air con­di­tion­ing, he said. On Tues­day he re­ceived a li­brary card and set­tled in with a few books, hop­ing to hear about an avail­able room some­where.

“I got tired of walk­ing in malls,” Verna said.

Cynthia Gal­van, 30, of Palm Springs wanted to hide in­side all day. But it was her 6-year-old daugh­ter’s birth­day. So she packed fruit, sand­wiches and Ga­torade, and took her fam­ily to the Foun­tain of Life, an elab­o­rate splash pad of tall stone col­umns adorned with mo­saic tiles and glass in Cathe­dral City. Just af­ter 1 p.m., as the tem­per­a­ture pushed 120 de­grees, her kids splashed in the streams of wa­ter, obliv­i­ous to the heat.

But she didn’t plan on stay­ing too long — maybe just half an hour.

“We’re go­ing to go home, rest, let them nap and then prob­a­bly do the movies later tonight,” Gal­van said. “It’s too much heat. I don’t want them to get sick.”

The in­tense heat is part of a sys­tem com­monly re­ferred to as the Four Cor­ners High, a high-pres­sure sys­tem that set­tles over the desert South­west near the Four Cor­ners area, where Ari­zona, Utah, New Mex­ico and Colorado meet.

In an­tic­i­pa­tion of the heat, Los An­ge­les County posted a list of cool­ing cen­ters on­line, while op­er­a­tors of Cal­i­for­nia’s elec­tri­cal grid is­sued their first flex alert of the year on Tues­day.

The Cal­i­for­nia In­de­pen­dent Sys­tem Op­er­a­tor urged en­ergy con­sumers to scale back power con­sump­tion over the next two days or risk out­ages.

The heat wave was ex­pected to peak Tues­day, Na­tional Weather Ser­vice me­te­o­rol­o­gist Curt Ka­plan said.

At 7 a.m. in Death Val­ley, cus­tomers, short-or­der cooks and wait­resses were al­ready sweat­ing in­side the Wran­gler Restau­rant in Fur­nace Creek, where the air­con­di­tion­ing sys­tem had bro­ken down. With the heat from the ovens ad­ding to the mis­ery, they tried to cool down by wrap­ping wet tow­els around their necks and guz­zling ice wa­ter. But a man­ager had to pull the plug and close.

“We can’t put cus­tomers through this — it’s just too hot,” John Kukreja said.

Fac­ing a full week of tem­per­a­tures above 120 de­grees, of­fi­cials at the na­tional park’s head­quar­ters — 190 feet be­low sea level — are brac­ing for heat-re­lated ill­ness and in­juries.

Ear­lier this month, a woman was trans­ported to the hospi­tal with third-de­gree burns on her feet.

“She’d lost her san­dals in Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and walked about a half-mile on the hot sand,” Abby Wines, a spokes­woman for the park, said in a state­ment.

Ground tem­per­a­tures ex­ceed­ing 200 de­grees have been mea­sured in Death Val­ley. “To put that in per­spec­tive,” Wines said, “160 de­grees is suf­fi­cient to cook meat.”

Park rangers warned vis­i­tors to avoid stray­ing from their air-con­di­tioned ve­hi­cles for longer than 15 min­utes and to carry plenty of wa­ter and wear a hat and sun­screen.

The high­est air tem­per­a­ture ever recorded on Earth was in Death Val­ley on July 10, 1913 — 134 de­grees.

Na­tional Park Ser­vice main­te­nance crew mem­bers had to fol­low strict safety pro­to­cols that in­clude work­ing for 10 min­utes, then rest­ing and hy­drat­ing for 20 min­utes, be­fore re­sum­ing the la­bor. All work had to cease when the tem­per­a­ture ex­ceeded 119.

That posed a dilemma for work­ers try­ing to re­pair a bro­ken wa­ter main at an RV camp­ground at the Stovepipe Wells re­sort. Their dig­i­tal ther­mome­ters kept flash­ing back and forth be­tween 118 and 119.

They de­cided to fin­ish the job.

“When it gets this hot, a lot of these pipes start bust­ing open like 60-year-old clogged ar­ter­ies,” said An­drew Be­craft, 33, the park’s act­ing su­per­vi­sor over roads and me­chan­ics. “We’ll be re­pair­ing bro­ken mains all over this park for the next three months — it’s the na­ture of the beast in Death Val­ley.”

Down the road, Mike Darby went about his job, won­der­ing what all the fuss was about. He pumped the sludge out of a gas sta­tion’s sep­tic tanks and packed up his hoses and valve con­nec­tors to hit the next spot.

“Two more stops and I’ll have a full load of 4,000 gal­lons,” said Darby, 57, his beard glis­ten­ing with sweat.

“You have to be cut from a cer­tain kind of cloth to do this work,” he said. “It’s got to be done, and I was made to do it.”

Ir­fan Khan Los An­ge­les Times

CHIL­DREN SPLASH in de­light as wa­ter pours from the Foun­tain of Life in Cathe­dral City. South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s heat wave, part of the Four Cor­ners High weather sys­tem, was fore­cast to peak Tues­day.

Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times

MOISES LOPEZ takes a break from land­scap­ing a San Gabriel Mis­sion school to hy­drate.

James Quigg As­so­ci­ated Press

THE MILL Creek hot­shot crew pre­pares to fight a wild­fire near Big Bear Lake that grew to 1,200 acres and forced tem­po­rary evacuations.

Ir­fan Khan Los An­ge­les Times

A MIST of­fers Chicago pair Tina Robin­son and Eric Johns some re­lief in Palm Springs, where tem­per­a­tures reached a scorch­ing 122 de­grees Tues­day.

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