In the Heat of the Night


The chances of finding an electric fan for sale in Ventura County this week are only slightly better than the chances of finding an icicle in Ojai: slim to none.

That is because it's hot and it's not cooling down, even at midnight.

While Easterners and Midwesterners may be used to steamy summer nights, Southern Californians are not. The fact that it usually cools down for comfy sleeping is a bragging point for weather-proud coastal dwellers.

But not this week. Maybe not this month.

"Last week, they even bought all our floor-box fans," said a clerk at a Thousand Oaks Kmart. "We don't have any more."

"We're out of fans until next summer," said an Oxnard Wal-Mart clerk.

"I think we have a couple left," said a Target clerk in Simi Valley.

"Nope, sorry. We may get a shipment in tomorrow."

From Piru to Point Mugu, from Oxnard to Ojai, as the Irving Berlin song goes, "We're having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave."

The humidity isn't dropping either, and that isn't going to change soon, said meteorologist Bruce Rockwell at Oxnard's National Weather Service bureau. In fact, Rockwell said, he recently bought an air conditioner himself to weather the heat spell.

"I don't expect a break for eight days or maybe until the end of the month," he said. "It's like a hot-water bottle.

"Every night, we get close to setting the highest low temperature. It is staying in the 60s all night long. The humidity gets up to 80 to 90%."

Rockwell attributes the unusually high humidity mainly to the warm ocean temperature.

Santa Paula meteorologist Terry Schaeffer agrees, saying that the warmer seawater literally pumps vapor into the air. Although everything is being blamed on El Nino these days, weather blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico is also at fault, he said.

Tuesday afternoon, lifeguard John Kirstein paddled out toward the Ventura Pier and dropped a thermometer 15 feet into the Pacific. Ten minutes later, when he pulled it up, it registered 70 degrees, a good 10 degrees above normal.

Other peculiar ocean activity is surfacing. Lifeguards at San Buenaventura State Beach headquarters said ocean creatures don't need a thermometer to tell them the water is warm. "We're hearing that they're catching a lot of fish up here around the Channel Islands that they'd typically catch off Baja, like sailfish," said lifeguard Bryan Ketterer of Ventura.

"And they're catching marlin as far north as Seattle," added co-worker Derrick Adamache. He said lifeguards have made more rescues this summer because, since the water is warmer, there are more swimmers.

Off the beaches, people are attempting to catch what little breeze there is to be caught after sundown. Of course, those who own air conditioners can rev them up to high in a stifling bedroom at midnight. Others resort to wide-open bedroom windows, oscillating fans, cold drinks, minimal clothing or nighttime ocean dips.

"When I get home, I take my dress off and put my hair up," said Ventura resident Natalie Siman. "Last night, I went for a swim at the beach."

Those who can't stand the heat are getting out of the kitchen. "You can tell no one wants to cook--people are buying more prepared takeout food," said Pat Beeson, store manager at the Vons outlet on Harbor Boulevard. An inordinate number of shoppers also seemed to be strolling up and down the frozen-food aisle Wednesday afternoon.

Coffeehouse sales have literally gone cold. "Our ice-blended drinks are going one after the other. In fact, when someone orders coffee, the clerks say, 'You want that hot?' " said Summer Carrick at Ventura's Daily Grind coffeehouse. "Even in the morning, people want the cold drinks."

Rex Laird of the Ventura County Farm Bureau offered the agricultural take on the heat wave. He didn't know how the warm nights are affecting crops, he said, "but it's probably making the farmers irritable."

Air conditioner sales are up, according to Camarillo Heating and Air Conditioning. The company figures that since August it has installed 20% more cooling units than in past summers.

Robin and Paul Pecoraro of Ventura fled to the beach this week with 8-week-old Austin and preschooler Andrew to escape their sweltering house, "but also because we're bombing our house for fleas right now--we set off six bombs because they're so bad," Robin said. "We can't go back inside for a while."

Perspiring adults are resorting to such solutions as filling their children's wading pool and plopping in themselves in the privacy of their own backyards.

Avenue Hardware store manager Buzz Bafford, whose Ventura establishment still stocks a few fans, says he cools down at night by hosing down the sidewalks, patio and plants around his house. "Even the roof, sometimes. It's probably psychological, but I feel cooler."

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