Winter Weather Takes a Holiday in Southland

Times Staff Writer

Saturday saw floods and hurricane-force winds battering Europe, a cold snap forcing Miami to open homeless shelters and up to 2 feet of snow keeping New Englanders indoors.

But in Huntington Beach, Laurany Gergen tanned herself, Jessie Davis licked melting chocolate from her fingers and Nicole Lopez kept a New Year's resolution by trotting at beachside in bikini top and yoga pants.

While much of the rest of the world soldiered on through wintry weather Saturday, those in Orange County enjoyed what in all ways other than the date was a quintessential summer's day.

Sunny skies and unseasonably warm temperatures in the low 80s lured people outside en masse, the specter of Monday and the indisputable end of the holiday season looming for schoolchildren and many in the work force.

The sand at Huntington Beach was dotted with sunbathers, shirtless young men throwing footballs and giggling children playing tag with the waves. The illusion of a summer day wasn't perfect: In an RV parking lot, bathing suits drying in the sun flapped next to Christmas lights strung around the campers.

Gergen, 37, and her husband, Jon, almost stayed home Saturday to take down their Christmas lights. Instead, they took their two young sons to the beach.

"You have to take advantage of these sunny days," said Jon Gergen, 42, who planned to go fishing before another trip to the beach today. "Chores and errands take a back seat to weather this good. We'll get to the lights later."

Those lights may not be coming down for a while. Temperatures are expected to rise another few degrees in the next couple of days, then level out Tuesday in the mid-70s.

A dome of high pressure is keeping out the clouds and cool onshore breezes, producing temperatures about 20 degrees above average, which nearly broke the Santa Ana record for Jan. 4: That was 85 degrees, set in 1969.

At Central Park in Huntington Beach, 12-year-old Jessie enjoyed her messy candy bar after spending the morning planting oak saplings to earn community service hours for school. The planting of 350 trees was part of a renovation of the park's Shipley Nature Center.

She and seventh-grade classmate Ryan Marks, 13, were waiting to be picked up after the project was over. Jessie looked longingly at a volunteer watering one of the new trees.

"That water looks so good," she said. "The second I get home, I'm jumping into the pool."

The temperatures inspired Lopez, 25, to take the beach path, threading her way among cyclists, joggers and dogs of seemingly every breed.

She has promised that this year she will walk a mile three times a week -- a pledge she knows won't be as easy to keep when the weather isn't so pleasant.

"It will be really hard to force myself to get out of bed when the temperature goes down to normal," she said.

"Right now, it's impossible to stay inside when it's this gorgeous out here."

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