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Record Smog : Southland Battles Heat and Bad Air

Times Staff Writer

Most of Southern California struggled to stay cool Friday as a pre-summer heat wave settled in for the weekend. And to make matters worse, a smog siege Thursday and Friday was being called the worst in two years.

Orange County sweltered along with the rest of the Southland, with the mercury climbing to 88 in Santa Ana by midday. The central part of the county had a first-stage smog alert (unhealthful air for everyone) in the late afternoon, and polluted air also blanketed the northern county and Saddleback Valley, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

In downtown Los Angeles, a hint of a sea breeze moved in to keep the area from reaching the predicted 97 degrees. After registering 94 in the early afternoon, the mercury began to subside slightly, holding at 89 at 5 p.m.

Beach Areas Cooler

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The mercury reached 98 in Burbank and 97 in much of the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

Only the beach areas, where there was some fog and cloudiness, stayed relatively cool with temperatures in the 70s as the upper-level, high-pressure system kept the heat on elsewhere.

Friday was the smoggiest day of 1985, according to air district officials. In fact, Thursday and Friday had been the smoggiest two days in the last two years. And the situation was not expected to get any better soon.

“Until two days ago,” said Jim Birakos, deputy AQMD executive officer, “this year was beginning to look very good.”

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But on Thursday, the temperature began to rise, there was no cloud cover to inhibit the smog reaction and the wind was so feeble, Birakos pointed out, “that it couldn’t blow out a match.” The result was a series of first-stage episodes, not only in Los Angeles and Orange counties, but also in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. By 4 p.m., a first-stage episode had even been declared in the central San Bernardino Mountains.

There will be more smog as long as it stays hot, the AQMD said. First-stage alerts are predicted today for inland Orange County, metropolitan Los Angeles and the inland valleys.

In all of 1984, Birakos noted, the AQMD did not have a single second-stage episode, but Glendora and the east San Gabriel Valley suffered through second-stage episodes both Thursday and Friday.

A second-stage episode is declared when the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) is between 275 and 399. Hazardous air quality is declared when the PSI is between 300 and 500.

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There has never been a stage-three episode (when the PSI reaches 400). In the event of one, the governor could declare a state of emergency and many offices would close.

The AQMD advised people in the smoggier areas on Friday to refrain from too much exercise and stay indoors as much as possible.

But with all that, Birakos said, “the improvement continues.” He contended that 10 years ago, that much heat, strong sunlight, pronounced inversion and weak wind would have made things “much worse.”

Fire officials, meanwhile, were worried about arid hillsides. Although no “red flag” alert had been declared, a Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesman said low humidity readings in the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys had prompted concern for those areas because of the extreme dryness.

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The high relative humidity in Los Angeles was 64% and the low was 27%.

Heat to Continue

As for the heat, the National Weather Service said Orange County will continue to have smoggy weather with temperatures in the high 80s. The inland valleys will have high temperatures from 95 to 105 through the weekend, while highs at the beaches will be in the 70s. Downtown Los Angeles should post a temperature of about 92.

Normal June weather, the weather service pointed out, means midday temperatures in the 70s near the coast and in the 80s along the coastal foothills.

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Friday may have been a work day, but thousands managed to find time to go to the beaches in an effort to escape the heat and smog. Los Angeles County Lifeguard Lt. Russ Walker estimated that by 2 p.m., about 150,000 were on the sands from Topanga Canyon to Marina del Rey. Another 65,000 were reported on South Bay beaches.

Times staff writer Josh Getlin contributed to this story.


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