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Dark Clouds, Silver Linings : Everyone talks about the extended spell of gloomy weather, but no one does anything about it.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gray skies. They don’t endanger the water supply. They don’t kill crops. They don’t delay traffic.

Clouds just hang there, generating gloom.

In a drought, people make personal sacrifices to conserve water. They bathe together and let their lawns die.

When temperatures turn frigid, as they did last winter, people stay up nights tending smudge pots and wind machines to save the crops.

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Lately, though, the weather has not galvanized the populace. It has sent residents in search of warm sweaters, hot soup and a therapist. Only occasionally have warm rays broken through the foggy, funereal skies over much of Ventura County.

The overcast has had its effects--good and bad--on many of Ventura County’s citizens. Area lifeguards have mostly seen the downside.

“I think people come to the beach in the summertime for the sun. Without the sun, we’re kind of at a disadvantage for drawing crowds,” said Erik Bear, the lonely head lifeguard at Hueneme State Beach.

“It’s been kind of gloomy. Even the lifeguards are taking on a depressed outlook on the summer. . . . This reminds us of an eternal June.”

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Longtime county residents will tell you that lusterless weather is typical of May and June, but July and August? That’s pretty strange. Bear, in fact, said the so-called summer has been the worst since the Hueneme lifeguards began keeping weather logs about six years years ago.

And beach-goers have been acting accordingly.

“We’re seeing a lot of people come fully clothed . . .,” Bear said. “They’re coming down in jeans and a jacket and maybe walking around. They’re staying a half hour instead of a few hours.”

Bear said a husband and wife pass by his lifeguard tower every day asking when the sun will come out. “They retired this year and were going to spend the summer at the beach,” he said. “So anyway . . . they’ve taken up reading.” At home.

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People aren’t just staying away from the beaches. They’re staying away from water in general. The two public swimming pools in Simi Valley have seen a decline of about 33% in daily attendance from last summer’s turnout.

“They’re just not showing up this year. They don’t even try to come,” said Tony Smith, manager of the Sequoia Neighborhood Park pool in Simi Valley. What they don’t know, apparently, is that the pool is always warmed to 84 degrees. “The people who are coming are probably enjoying themselves more because it’s not crowded.”

This stay-at-home-by-the-fire attitude is not making the people who sell swimwear happy.

Tulle Himle, manager of the Sun Seekers Tanning, Bikini & Clothing Co. in Ventura, said that last summer she sold two or three swimsuits to each customer. This year, it’s one at a time. People aren’t getting tired of them or wearing them out as quickly, she said.

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On the other hand, the tanning part of Himle’s business has been looking pretty sunny. “We’re tanning 150 to 250 people a day. I’m dead serious,” she said. That means her 12 tanning beds are used by up to 70 more customers a day than last summer.

Marni Petersons has seen a similar tanning trend. Petersons owns the Island Tropics tanning salon that opened July 19 at the Thousand Oaks location previously occupied by A Touch of Sun.

“I knew the owner of the shop that was here before,” she said. “Compared to normal business, it’s up about 20%.”

So what’s behind this abnormal weather? Meteorologists mumble about rising and falling barometers, high and low pressure troughs and temperature inversions.

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But the real problem may be Carla Floming of Clinton, Iowa.

“I’ve been to California three times and its been like this every time. My cousin tells me it’s my fault,” she said recently as she sat on a rock on San Buenaventura State Beach, dressed in shorts (idealistically) and an Iowa State sweat shirt (realistically). “I know the fire rangers love me.”

She may be right. Bill Wright, vegetation officer for the Ventura County Fire Department, said the murky weather has definitely lowered the fire hazard, at least until the humidity drops and Santa Ana conditions take hold.

“There’s a lot more moisture in the plants themselves. It takes a lot more heat to dry them out because of the moisture content,” he said. “On the whole, overcast and higher humidity is beneficial for the fire season.”

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Floming is one of the few tourists in Ventura County who stuck it out until the end of their vacations. Spokesmen from fog-shrouded hotels said out-of-state tourists have shortened their stays. These hotels have also experienced a decrease in the number of walk-in guests.

“The people who just wander up the coast . . . they get up here and they might not sit and have that late lunch or the glass of wine and get lethargic and say, ‘Why not spend the night in a hotel?’ ” said Tom Torrance of Ventura’s Harbortown Marina Resort.

Bob Dupres, general manager of the Mandalay Beach Resort in Oxnard, said guests have been disappointed when they get into town.

“They’re not as content. They’re not as happy,” he said. “We have to pay more attention to them.”

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Smith harks back to 1976, his first year in the county, for a summer similar to this one. “My comment to my wife then was if I had known it would be like this we could have gone to Seattle,” he said. “Everybody gets the yucks. We need sun to recharge our solar battery. This weather is kind of depressing for sure.”

Though it’s most commonly discussed in the desolate winter months, there is a term for the psychological effect that day after day of gloomy weather has on people. It’s called Seasonal Attitudinal Disorder or SAD. Hardly a term one would associate with August in California. But sadness has suffused the summer this year, said Sharon Potter, a therapist in Simi Valley and Westlake.

“I’ve seen it in my practice. I’ve seen it in myself,” she said. “Anything that is the least little bit stress-producing is exacerbated by this weather. We’re seeing a lot of depression. They want to sleep all the time. There’s hopelessness and a lot of anxiety.”

Over a two-week period in mid-July, Potter said, she got seven new patients. “They just said, ‘I’m at the end of my rope,’ and this weather could be bringing that on.”

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But not everyone loathes the leaden skies. Local growers, in particular, have mixed emotions about the dimness. On one hand, there’s the fungus and mildew that comes with excessive moisture.

On the other hand, if growers irrigate as they have since the drought began, their crops--particularly avocados and citrus--will finally get enough water.

“What has happened in the past is people have been under-irrigating. They’ve been shorting their crops,” said Lee Waddle III, head of the Ventura County Mobile Irrigation Lab.

“Now it’s a more normal type of weather condition. The water requirement has gone down, but the irrigation remains the same. They’re now being truly efficient.” This should result in higher quality and quantity of produce for the consumer and increased income for the grower.

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At Doug Richardson’s farm in La Conchita, the foggy, humid conditions are just great for the bananas, but the lack of heat has them growing at about half speed. And Richardson said he hasn’t had much success getting people to buy his product.

“When the sun comes out and they see bananas, it all makes sense,” he said. “But when its foggy, it doesn’t make sense. If people come to the banana field and everyone is wearing flannel shirts, it doesn’t seem quite as real.”

Rex Laird, head of the Ventura County Farm Bureau, said the overcast and mist can be as beneficial as rain. “It doesn’t hurt the crops . . . not unless it depresses them like it does me.”

It has depressed some crops. The lack of heat has delayed the growth of chilies by about two weeks at Tierra Rejada Ranch in Moorpark, said owner Rick Brecunier. But he’s not going to complain about the temperatures.

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“I can recall 100 degree days in spring,” he said. “If I had to choose between the two, I’d take this any day.”

So would the wolves and leopards at the Moorpark College Exotic Animal Compound.

“Mostly what affects them is the temperature,” said Assistant Director Lynn Doria. “They’re more active when it’s 60 than when it’s 90. They’ve been really happy. More happy than we are.”


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