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Rain Puts Damper on Buying, Driving

Times Staff Writer

The noonday sun was barely poking through gray clouds as Eddie Hecht attempted to sell a pair of red leather boots at the Orange County Fairgrounds swap meet Friday.

“This is going to be a very abbreviated day,” Hecht said as the customer walked away.

The day after Thanksgiving is usually full of sales, but Hecht had just set up his booth--about 4 hours later than usual--because of the morning rain.

“Because we work outside, we can’t set up until the weather is acceptable,” Hecht said. A downpour would ruin the inventory of Shoes by Edward, he said. “I expect to do about 20%" of normal business, he said.

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Heavier Than Expected

Besides dampening the hopes of swap meet vendors, Friday’s rain played havoc with a few drivers on slick streets. Even though there were fewer commuters on the road, there was still a goodly share of snarls as cars skidded on wet freeways and shoppers jammed off-ramps to get to the shopping malls.

What the weather experts foresaw as a light rain Friday turned out to be a little heavier, sufficient to dampen the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy but not enough to inundate homes or set hillsides in motion.

By the time the showers tailed off Friday morning, Santa Ana had recorded .48 of an inch of rain, bringing the season total to 1.31 inches. Normal to date is 1.71. San Juan Capistrano received .54 of an inch, and Newport soaked up .43. The Los Angeles Civic Center received .15 of an inch of rain, bringing the season total there to a paltry .79.

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Temperatures were also below average. The Los Angeles Civic Center high Friday was 55 degrees--which tied the record low maximum set 109 years ago. The overnight low reading Friday was 46.

In Orange County, Santa Ana’s high Friday was 61 degrees. It was slightly cooler in Newport, 57 degrees, and in El Toro, 58 degrees.

The weekend is expected to be dry, said meteorologist Dave Beusterien of WeatherData, which provides forecasts to The Times.

A mild Santa Ana condition will bring a warming trend. Today should be partly cloudy with Orange County high temperatures in the low to mid-60s. Sunday is expected to be sunny with highs in the mid-60s to low 70s.

The rain contributed to more than half a dozen accidents and traffic tie-ups Friday morning along the freeways covered by the Westminster office of the California Highway Patrol.

In one, a driver plowed into a guardrail when his brakes locked up as he took the southbound Brookhurst Street off-ramp from the northbound San Diego Freeway at 7:30 a.m. CHP Officer Bill Jacques said the driver, Mark Dowey, 22, of San Diego, was unhurt but his car took out about 30 feet of guardrail and was totaled.

A three-vehicle accident occurred about an hour later on the southbound side of the freeway when a car stalled in the fourth lane between Bolsa and McFadden avenues, Jacques said. The driver of a pickup truck, Rosendo Rosas, 25, of Ontario, slammed on his brakes to avoid the stalled vehicle but lost control. His car hit a retaining wall, then bounced across the freeway into the fast lane.

Another driver, Frances A. Schneider, 64, of Carson City, Nev., slammed on her brakes but hit the truck and went into the center divider. Her vehicle was rear-ended by another driver, Sei Dyo of Carson.

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Schneider, the only one injured, was taken to Humana Hospital-Westminster, where she was treated and released.

During rainy weather, “people tend to drive the same,” CHP Officer Mike Lundquist said. “They don’t realize it takes longer to stop, that windows get frosted up and the rain on the side windows causes seeing problems. And all that has to be compensated for by slowing down.”

Shopping Traffic

Traffic also jammed up on the San Diego Freeway at Bristol Street as shoppers tried to get into South Coast Plaza.

“There are all those Christmas sales, and everyone has to be there right away,” Lundquist said.

Shopping at the special Orange County Fairgrounds day-after-Thanksgiving swap meet was a bit less crowded. But the owners waived the 50-cent admission and dispensed free coffee and soft drinks to reward shoppers who braved the cold temperatures and cloudy skies.

Beth Zinn, carrying an armload of baskets and other gifts, said the weather didn’t matter: “I’ve got to get things for Christmas.” Besides, she said, it beat going to jammed South Coast Plaza. “I’m not going to get near that place today.”

Rick Horn, selling Southwestern-style furniture displayed around a few puddles, said the crowd was good “considering the day, when the malls are offering nice, warm shopping. They’re offering sales, and it makes it tough to come out in the rain and shop.”

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The ranks of swap sellers were thin, with about 65% of them leaving Friday morning before the gates even opened, a swap meet spokesman said.

Ben H. Phillips, who sells jerseys, T-shirts and other pro sports garb, did not set out his goods until after noon for fear that his merchandise would be damaged by rain. But the abbreviated hours might spur a few more sales, he said. “Because of the shortness of time, people won’t be so indecisive,” he said.

Business Down

Karen Wasson, who sells her handmade Scandinavian door harps, lace hats, decorated baskets and sachets at a space next to the women’s restroom, said business was slow.

“Usually there are 30 to 40 women lined up right past here to go to the restroom. This is usually a good spot.”

Ed Beddoes, swap meet manager, said that despite the clouds it was a “decent day. If the sun comes out, it will be nice. And here, everybody gets a chance to walk their turkey off.”

Business was brisk in the Southland’s mountains, however, as light snow continued to fall above the 7,000-foot level during the day and happy skiers took to the slopes. Big Bear got its first good snow, with 2 to 3 inches falling by Friday morning.

“Everybody’s open for business,” San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Sgt. Stephen Moran said of the ski resorts. “Traffic seems to be flowing.”

But the snow did make driving conditions hazardous in some areas. Chains or snow tires were required on California 330 from San Bernardino through Running Springs, California 18 from Running Springs to Big Bear and California 38 from Redlands to Big Bear.

Surfers were enjoying themselves too.

“It’s 3- to 4-foot surf, and they like it,” said Los Angeles County Lifeguard Lt. Tom Viren at Santa Monica. “The offshore winds are kicking the waves up.”

Winds caused trouble for motorists in desert areas. Gusts up to 50 m.p.h. were reported in the Tehachapi Valley. Winds in the Mojave Desert were “a threat to travelers,” the National Weather Service said.


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