It Was a Dark and Sweaty Night

Times Staff Writer

The windows are all open, and the ceiling fan in his bedroom is going full blast. But to graphic designer Terry Payne, it doesn’t matter. It’s just too hot to sleep.

So Payne, a 48-year-old Pasadena resident, takes his sheets to the backyard, where he and his dog, a Newfoundland mix, can finally fall asleep.

The arrangement has some complications: He must put his sheets in the dryer each day because of the morning dew. And a worker doing repairs on a nearby crane who saw him snoozing asked: “Did your old lady kick you out of the house last night?”


But it’s worth it, Payne said: “The house just doesn’t cool off.”

A case of hot summer nights has made Southern California’s heat wave feel even more miserable.

It just isn’t cooling off enough at night, climatologists say. On Sunday, several minimum temperatures were unseasonably high, breaking records.

At 77, Burbank experienced the warmest nighttime low the city has ever recorded for July. Los Angeles International Airport, Long Beach, Woodland Hills and downtown Los Angeles also saw record high minimum temperatures.

The night heat is one reason so many power transformers failed: People cranked their air conditioners all night, giving the taxed systems less time to rest before sunrise.

“Back in the old days, it got a lot cooler at night. Now, we’re not getting relief at night,” said William Patzert, a meteorologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge.

Climatologists say global warming gets some of the blame. But the prime villain, they say, is the ever-increasing urbanization of the region. The rapid development of Southern California over the last 50 years has created structures and landscapes that retain heat better than dry desert chaparral.

Golf courses, shopping centers, housing developments and lush lawns trap heat during the day, keeping temperatures up at night.

The warm nights lead to torrid daytime temperatures because heating already warm air doesn’t take long, he said.

“The extreme makeover Southern California got is impacting nighttime temperatures,” Patzert said.

“Everybody wants to know why it’s not cooling off at night. This is an urban land use ‘heat island’ effect.”

The numbers tell the tale: Between 1901 and 2000, the average daytime temperature in Southern California has gone up by three degrees, Patzert said. But nighttime averages have risen by seven degrees.

“The warm temperatures the previous nights start you off harder when the sun goes up,” Patzert said.

“It makes the daytime temperatures hotter still,” he said.

In a nod to the hot nights, Los Angeles officials on Monday announced that several air-conditioned senior centers would remain open later as a refuge, including two in the San Fernando Valley that will operate 24 hours a day.

“It’s even hot at night,” said Sally Reiser, who was eating lunch at a “cooling center” in Northridge on Monday.

Los Angeles City Councilman Greig Smith echoed her view: “If it was day, that would be uncomfortable. But at night, that’s really uncomfortable.”

Some residents who have been without power for days have tried to cope without air conditioning. But many find it a losing battle.

Since Saturday, Highland Park resident Jaime O’Neill said she had to constantly bathe her two young children and niece in cool water. Then the family would gather in the living room with windows and the front door open.

Her husband measured the temperature inside their house at 104 Sunday night. The children couldn’t sleep and her year-old daughter kept crying, she said.

“It’s miserable, miserable,” she said.

On Monday, the family moved into a motel.

“I just couldn’t take it. I had to escape,” O’Neill said. “I had to open every single window in the house. And I was scared because people can come in through the windows.”

Kelly Redmond, a climatologist for the Desert Research Institute in Reno, said there seems to be a pattern across the Western United States of “very high minimum temperatures.”

The Central Valley has logged nighttime lows in the 80s, Redmond said.

But no other town has provided an example of nighttime temperatures run amok as extreme as the one from the Colorado River town of Needles.

At 5 a.m. Sunday, Needles reached its nighttime low: 100.

Redmond said it may be for the record books.

“It’s only the second location in all of North America to record a 100-degree minimum as far as I know,” Redmond said. The other is Death Valley.

For Terry Payne, Pasadena is hot enough. And he plans to continue sleeping alfresco as the heat wave continues.

His 12-year-old dog, Auggie, who spent the night panting when they slept in the bedroom, now seems to be breathing fine.

“I have to do it for his sake,” Payne said. “The problem is he’s panting and he’s old. I can’t bear to have him hot.”

Times staff writers Patrick McGreevy and Valerie Reitman contributed to this report.



24-hour heat

Several Southern California locations reported lows that were the highest on record for July 24.

Record high minimums

*--* Normal Monday minimum Burbank 75 63 Downtown L.A. 75 65 LAX 72 64 Long Beach Airport 73 65 Woodland Hills 71 57 Camarillo 67 60 Santa Barbara 69 58 Paso Robles 71 54 Santa Maria 61 54


Source: National Weather Service



Outages: the Current Situation


Q: What caused the power outages?

A: One main factor is that hundreds of transformers that sit atop power poles overheated because electricity use was so high because of the heat wave.

Q: Is the power system sound?

A: Local power officials acknowledged Monday that many of the transformers are decades old. They were built before most homes had air conditioners, computers and multiple television sets. While they work fine most of the time, heavy, 24-hour power use (of air conditioners, for example) can strain the system.

Q: What are officials doing about it?

A: Southern California Edison, which distributes power to large portions of Southern California, hopes to replace many older transformers as part of a larger infrastructure improvement campaign. Los Angeles officials have voiced support for a similar campaign at the Department of Water and Power, which provides power for Los Angeles.

Q: Are rolling blackouts possible?

A: State officials said California came close to rolling blackouts Monday because demand was so high. They are urging residents and businesses to conserve energy.

Q: What can people do to conserve energy?

A: Here are some suggestions from the state: Turn off computer monitors when away from desks; turn off lights and computers in empty offices; cool with fans instead of air conditioning; keep curtains closed to preserve cool air; switch off the coffee maker at 10 a.m., leave a full pot and reheat individual mugs in the microwave; leave half of a room’s overhead lighting off; turn off unnecessary lights and appliances; run dishwashers, washing machines and other big appliances in the early morning or late at night.

Q: Are there any places people can go to beat the heat?

A: L.A. officials are established “cooling centers” at senior centers around the city. For more information, call (310) 548-7671 or the city’s 311 information line.