It was so hot Monday that it broke the all-time record — and the weatherman’s thermometer.
The National Weather Service’s thermometer for downtown Los Angeles headed into uncharted territory at 12:15 p.m. Monday, reaching 113 degrees for the first time since records began being kept in 1877.
Shortly after that banner moment, the temperature dipped back to 111, and then climbed back to 112. Then at 1 p.m., the thermometer stopped working.
The weather service office in Oxnard rushed an electronics technician 60 miles southeast to the USC campus to repair the thermometer, which is actually a highly sensitive wire connected to electronic equipment. Because of the snafu, officials said it’s possible Monday’s temperature actually was hotter than 113 — but they might never know.
For meteorologists who cover a region sometimes mocked for its lack of weather, the record was met with great excitement. They figured it would be hot, with the mercury hitting around 108 or 109, but they didn’t quite expect that an all-time record would be topped.
Downtown L.A. was not the only place that set records. Long Beach tied an all-time record of 111. Other cities didn’t break all-time records but registered new highs for the day. They include Burbank (110), Woodland Hills (111), Oxnard (100), El Cajon (109) and Indio (109).
It wasn’t lost on weather aficionados that the record heat came after a summer of record low temperatures.
“Five days ago, we saw some of the lowest daytime temperatures we’ve seen in 50 years. And today was a once-in-a-century day,” said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. “So anybody that thinks Southern California doesn’t have weather, we definitely have had a major exhibition by Mother Nature in the last five days.”
You didn’t have to tell that to folks in downtown Los Angeles. Those unlucky enough to venture outside during the noon hour were trying not to sweat over their moment in history.
“It’s 113? I believe it. I feel it,” said sidewalk sweeper Nathaniel Stewart as he pushed his broom along Los Angeles Street.
“I’ve never been this hot, and I’ve been here 32 years,” said Stewart, who cleans walkways in a program operated by downtown Los Angeles’ Chrysalis Enterprises. “I’m trying to stay in the shade as much as I can. But there isn’t a lot of shade along here.”
Farther down the street, Nick Szamet was sitting inside the Groundworks coffee house nursing a cup of coffee. Hot coffee.
“It’s the ‘Bitch’s Brew,’” said Szamet, a Highland Park resident who works in the mayor’s office at City Hall. “I always like my coffee hot.”
Frank Chavez, a waiter who lives in Little Tokyo, interrupted a noontime errand to duck into a restaurant at the Japanese Village Plaza to ask for a cup of ice water. “They know it’s hot. They were very polite,” he said as he sipped the water.
A few steps away, Hwashik Bong and three friends crowded under a large umbrella as they hastily devoured ice cream cones.
“You have to eat it fast in weather like today,” said Bong, a writer, as a mix of chocolate and vanilla dripped over his hand and onto the ground.
It was about 11 a.m. when the temperature hit 112 in downtown L.A., raising excitement at the Oxnard office that an all-time record would be broken. Scientists accelerated their checking of the USC weather station. They don’t have a continuous feed of information and have to use a computer to dial into the station to check the temperature at a given time. So they began to check it every couple of minutes.
“Ever since we saw it start getting close to the record, when it hit 111 or 112, we said, ‘We tied it. Let’s see if we beat it,’” said NWS weather specialist Stuart Seto. “We were watching it, going from 111 to 112 to 113.”
The previous all-time highest temperature in downtown L.A. was recorded on June 26, 1990.
But Monday’s temperature at 12:15 p.m. in downtown L.A. still doesn’t exceed the all-time record for all of Los Angeles County. On July 22, 2006, perennial hot spot Woodland Hills hit 119 degrees.
Monday’s records culminate a heat wave than began Saturday. The heat was produced by a muscular ridge of high pressure that anchored itself over Southern California. Those conditions combined with weak offshore winds that grew hotter as they pushed from the desert toward the coast. As a result, it was hotter in places like downtown, West Hollywood and Santa Monica than in some typically broiling inland areas.
With no marine layer in sight, Santa Monica hit 103 at around noon. It was slightly cooler on the Orange County coast, with Huntington Beach registering a high of 92 and Newport Beach 87.
Conditions are expected cool slightly Tuesday.
With the heat came heightened fire danger. It was about 110 in Thousand Oaks, where firefighters battled a 25-acre brush fire off the 101 Freeway.
“At the time, it was so hot that waves of shimmering heat were rising from the freeway,” said passerby Aleia Wolkins of Canoga Park, “The flames made it even hotter.”
A smaller brush fire was quickly extinguished earlier in the day in Ladera Heights.
The heat put pressure on Southern California’s power grid, with utilities urging the public to conserve. Southern California Edison reported 11,000 customers without power Monday evening in such cities as Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Diamond Bar, Alhambra, Glendora and Rosemead. The heat prompted Metro to reduce the speeds on some of its rail lines, causing some delays.
Throughout the Los Angeles area, those who could stayed inside air-conditioned buildings.
In the air-conditioned confines of L.A. County Superior Court downtown, a crisply suited Frank McCourt was keeping his cool on Day 10 of the trial between him and his estranged wife, Jamie. “I’m feeling very comfortable,” said McCourt during a break in the proceedings.
Several dozen protesters at a downtown march for immigration reform had no choice but to be outdoors.
Victor Quintero, 23, sweat dripping from his head as he gathered with other activists in front of the Ronald Reagan State Building, took a swig from his water bottle and laughed.
“It’s hot water!” he said. “It’s boiling hot water.”
Looking on was dress-shirt-clad Jim Root. “That’s commitment,” said Root, a lawyer who works in the attorney general’s office.
In Costa Mesa, Kenneth Kaaumoana, 41, was among those standing in a 20-minute line at a recycling center, hoping to collect a few bucks recycling plastic and glass.
Kaaumoana, who recently moved here from Kauai, where the island’s trade winds usually make the hottest days bearable, said the high temperatures Monday made gathering glass and plastic from trash dumpsters difficult.
“It’s not a really a smart thing to do, I guess, but you gotta do what you gotta do,” he said of his dumpster-diving.
Times staff writers Mike Anton, Stephen Cesar, Carla Hall, Kate Linthicum, Ching-Ching Ni, Rick Rojas and Catherine Saillant contributed to this report.