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Spring Rides Warm Winds Into Southland

Times Staff Writer

While they shoveled snow in the Rockies and dodged thunderstorms in the Midwest, people in the Southland marked the first day of spring with trips to the beach and long lunch breaks in city parks.

Spurred by gusty Santa Ana winds, the mercury climbed to 83 Monday at the Los Angeles Civic Center, six degrees shy of the record for the date--but hot enough to send many area residents in search of relief.

Spring, which officially began at 7:28 a.m., coincided with the beginning of school break for several districts in Los Angeles and Orange counties. But other systems, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, will not have vacation until next month.

The warmth was expected to subside some today, according to Rick Dittmann, a meteorologist for WeatherData Inc., which provides forecasts for The Times. Clouds will move down the shoreline today, he said, cooling the coastal areas slightly, though inland temperatures will stay in the 80s.

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“With the arrival of spring, I don’t think (permanent) warm weather is too far off,” Dittmann said.

10,000 at Zuma

At popular Zuma Beach, lifeguards reported more than 10,000 sun worshipers, swimmers and surfers had gathered by noon, and the crowd was growing.

Half a dozen lifeguard watch towers were opened Monday for the first time this season in anticipation of the rush to the beach.

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Lifeguard Craig Mattox reported 15 rescues at Zuma on Sunday and was expecting more on Monday.

“People are coming out of their winter coats, they’re out of shape or they’re from the middle states and not too water-oriented,” he said. “The weather gets hot and they start coming out.”

“It’s a beautiful, gorgeous day and I just wanted to get some rays and relax,” Chris Rioux, a 24-year-old resident of West Los Angeles, said as he spent his lunch break on a bench at Santa Monica Beach watching a volleyball game.

“It was too hot inside, so we came out to watch the kids play,” said Adelaida Chacon, who had strolled down the Santa Monica promenade with her two children to a grassy park area by the sand.

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The homeless people who frequent Santa Monica’s Palisades Park, meanwhile, sought shade and napped under palm trees.

In nearby Venice, crowds did not rival the peak weekend volume, but were bigger than normal for a weekday. Youngsters on skateboards and roller skates raced up and down Ocean Front Walk, while other people in bathing suits ate, drank and seemed merry at sidewalk cafes.

“Today is the first day of spring and, boy, you can really tell,” said Bruce Stanley, manager of the Land’s End Cafe in Venice.

In addition to the warm temperatures, Santa Ana winds gusting up to 40 m.p.h. whipped out of the deserts through the coastal canyons. As a result, high-wind advisories were posted for the so-called Inland Empire and parts of the Antelope Valley and Orange County, but no major damage was reported.

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In Palm Springs, as thousands of college students descended on the desert resort city for traditional spring break partying, police reported 388 arrests for offenses involving drunkenness and rowdiness, and an additional 1,728 citations were issued for traffic and other minor violations.

A Santa Ana woman, Sylvia Flores, 22, was killed and five companions seriously injured in a crash on a Palm Springs street Sunday evening. The pickup truck they were riding in was speeding and flipped over, police said. Officers said there was some evidence that the young people involved in the accident had been drinking, but no charges had been filed and the incident was under investigation.

Meanwhile, the first day of spring was marked by a low-pressure system that moved into the southern Plains on Monday, dumping nine inches of snow in parts of Colorado and sending a blizzard into western Kansas that shut down major highways.

Powerful thunderstorms were moving from east Texas into Louisiana, with heavy rain from Missouri through the middle Mississippi Valley.

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