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Southern Californians say 'water is the key' to surviving first summer heat wave

This heat wave is going to get worse. (June 19, 2017)

As the first heat wave of summer reached its anticipated peak Tuesday afternoon, Southern California residents employed a variety of methods to keep cool amid the swelter.

From the Pacific Coast to the Inland Empire, children and adults sought relief in air conditioned malls, libraries and movie theaters, while others lounged in pools or on the beach.

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Meanwhile, those who worked outside the shelter of climate-controlled office buildings guzzled water in a desperate attempt to stay hydrated.

"The water is key," said Tawny Auer, 28, as her sons Carter, 2, and Shane, 3, played at the Palm Desert Aquatic Center.

"For the next two and a half weeks this is where we'll be," she said as her boys splashed each other and slid beneath water fountains.

In the Los Angeles neighborhood of Beverlywood, David Johnson worked to replace fiber optic Internet cables in the bright sun. A contractor for AT&T, Johnson said his crew's truck was equipped with three, 5-gallon jugs of water.

"Hydration starts the day before," Johnson said. "Weeks like this when it gets really hot you drink nothing but water."

Construction workers try to shade themselves from the direct sun while welding a steel awning on a building in downtown Los Angeles on Monday. The heat wave was forecast to peak Tuesday.
Construction workers try to shade themselves from the direct sun while welding a steel awning on a building in downtown Los Angeles on Monday. The heat wave was forecast to peak Tuesday. (Richard Vogel / Associated Press)

In a Canoga Park playground, a film crew tried to soldier on as the mercury climbed to 104 degrees.

"It's definitely challenging," said Devon Downs, one of the production's directors. "The equipment is hot. We've had to change our shot list."

The crew had to stop shooting some scene when the playground's slides got too hot for the actors to sit on.

"No one is keeping cool," said first assistant director Xavier Puslowski as he sipped water. "But work is work."

The scorching weather is part of a system commonly referred to as the Four Corners High, a high-pressure system that settles over the desert Southwest near the Four Corners area — where Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado meet — and spreads smothering heat from Northern California to Nevada and as far east as Central Texas.

In anticipation of the heat, Los Angeles County posted a list of cooling centers online, while operators of California's electrical grid issued their first flex alert of the year on Tuesday.

The California Independent System Operator urged energy consumers to scale back power consumption over the next two days or risk outages.

Customers should turn off unnecessary lights and major appliances between 2 and 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, when energy usage is expected to peak at 47,000 megawatts, the system operator said.

The agency serves about 80% of the state's electricity consumers.

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The multi-state heat wave that brought triple-digit temperatures to Southern California was expected to peak Tuesday, although the heat will probably fall a degree or two short of all-time records, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Curt Kaplan.

Record or no record, many Southern Californians still struggled to stay cool.

Tamara and Anthony Scott tried to see "Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2" at the Woodland Hills AMC theater with their 6-month-old daughter. They chose an early showing in the hopes that no one else would come, but as soon as a few people trickled in after the movie started, they left the air conditioned theater, afraid their infant might be disruptive.

"Man, we gotta stay cool," Anthony Scott, 41, said, watching his daughter fidget in her cushioned cradle. Tamara Scott, 43, said they planned to return to their apartment, where they may drink smoothies with frozen fruit for lunch.

"It's a little scary," Anthony said of the heat as he lifted the cradle, heading toward the parking lot. The couple dressed their infant in light clothes and recently bought a mini-fan to help cool her down during the sweltering summer months.

Francis Resendiz, 36, was prepared for the heat when she arrived in Thermal at 5 a.m. Tuesday to sort grapes under a canopy of vines in the Coachella Valley.

She brought sunblock and a hat, a handkerchief to cover her head and neck and another one for her face. She brought a small blue duffel bag filled with electrolyte drinks and water that she had frozen beforehand so it would melt throughout her shift.

Even so, she said with a sigh, the heat on the farm was hard to handle.

At 9 a.m., nearly four hours into her day, the temperature had already reached 102 degrees nearby. It was predicted to rise to 122 degrees later in the day.

As Resendiz weighed plump purple bundles on a scale and placed them in plastic boxes, she said the heat was one thing, but under the grapevine canopies it was humid to boot.

"It starts to feel like you're suffocating," she said. "That's what affects you the most."

As she worked, a forewoman shouted out a reminder to the grape workers on her team: "Tomen agua" she said — drink water.

A couple of workers heeded her call.

But others were fortunate enough to be shielded from the heat.

At the Woodland Hills Academy, about 150 students taking summer school classes were chilled by the school's air conditioning.

Ted Yamane, the middle school's principal, said the Los Angeles Unified School District had issued a heat advisory and he didn't expect students to spend much time outside Tuesday — mainly because there's no physical education class during summer school.

Still, the campus officials said they were prepared for the heat. Administrators checked air conditioning in every classroom throughout the day, Yamane said.

"It isn't like when I grew up," said Yamane, who brought a large hydro flask water bottle to his office. When he was a student in the district, there was no regular air conditioning — only "big fans," he said. "It was a different time then."

For many, the only sure relief was the California coast, where temperatures hovered in the 70s.

At the beach in Santa Monica, Javier Perez, 38, picnicked with his wife, children and great-niece on an electric blue towel. They were visiting from San Francisco and staying in Burbank, where they spent much of their time sitting in kiddie pools to cool down. They came to the beach for a quick escape.

"It's a little cool, it's a little muggy, it's a lot better than the Valley," Javier Perez said.

But some families were disappointed with the cooler weather.

Salvador Sanchez, 31, sat on a beach chair next to his wife, Stacey Sanchez, 25, as their 3-year-old daughter played in the sand. The couple had the day off work and had driven to the beach from their home in Montebello.

"We were expecting to have the whole afternoon, but since it's a little cold, only an hour or two," Stacey said. "We'll go home, take a shower, and then back to the air conditioner."

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UPDATES:

4 p.m.: This article was updated with reporting from Canoga Park and more details about an electrical grid flex alert.

1:05 p.m.: This article was updated with reporting from Santa Monica.

10:45 a.m.: This article was updated with reporting from Woodland Hills and the Coachella Valley.

9:45 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from outdoor worker David Johnson.

This article was originally published at 8:25 a.m.

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