Oh, the humidity!

Barbara Diamond

Mother Nature wrung out the skies Monday night and let it pour

Wednesday morning.

Rare July thunderstorms and then rain provided a welcome change

from the seemingly endless leaden skies that have cast their pall

over Laguna. The annual June gloom began in mid-May and was still

with us as we headed into August. This year, the weather has even

trumped tourists as the main complaint of summer.

"I have lived here 20 years and I don't ever remember seeing it

overcast all day," said Woods Cove resident Cathy Wyatt, who moved

here from Virginia. "The weather had kind of turned on us. It's been

like the East Coast. I just wonder if it's a sign of things to come."

The hottest day ever recorded in Laguna was 119 degrees on Sept.

2, 1939, said Karen Turnbull, fourth generation Lagunan and

architectural historian. The humidity was 100%, making it the worst

day ever, Turnbull wrote in her book "Cottages and Castles." Three

days later, a storm wiped out three piers in town, leaving Rockpile

Beach as a memento.

Coastline Pilot weather columnist Dennis McTighe knows all the

statistics.

Laguna is having a warmer than usual summer this year because of

tropical moisture streaming in from the east and southeast, something

we haven't had much of since July and August of 1998, McTighe said.

The good thing is that the surface ocean temperature is hovering at

about 71 degrees, compared to 66.2 degrees in the past four years.

The bad thing is the humidity.

"I like gray houses; I don't like gray skies," Bill DeLand said.

The humidity was 20% higher than usual this July because of the

tropical moisture in the air -- in the high 70s.

McTighe predicted an electrical storm in his July 25 column, a

weather event Laguna Beach had not experienced until Monday, since

July 26, 1996, seven years almost to the day.

Monday's storm dropped a mere 0.04 inches of rain, said Graham

Wright, who tracks precipitation for the city's Sewer Division. It

was not exactly the equal of the '96 event that McTighe remembers. It

certainly didn't compare to the Aug; 15, 1958, storm that lighted the

skies for three hours and unloaded an inch of rain. Other significant

summer storms occurred Aug. 9, 1965; in June and July of 1972; in

August 1983; and July 16, 1995. One that barely qualifies as a summer

storm hit July 2, 1967.

None of them should even be mentioned in the same paragraph with

the 17-hour marathon on Sept 30 and Oct. 1, 1981.

However, Monday's storm was enough to give Festival of Arts

officials a scare. They acted quickly to protect the art displayed on

the grounds.

The storm hit just before the second act of the Pageant of the

Masters.

"The audience was certainly surprised, especially since

[announcer] Skip Conover mentions in the first act that we are an

outdoor show [subject to the weather] and actually knocks on wood,"

said Dee Dee Challis Davy, Pageant director for eight years.

"If the rain hadn't started in the intermission, they might have

thought it was part of the show."

The first act includes a snowstorm.

"It's a magical moment," festival marketing director Sharbie

Higuchi said. "The real storm was very much in keeping with the

show's "Seasons" theme."

Show staff covered the orchestra pit with plastic to protect the

instruments. The audience hastily covered themselves with coats and

blankets.

"When we announced that we would make every attempt to continue

the show, there was a huge cheer," Challis Davy said. "They really

wanted to see the second act."

Art-a-Fair and Sawdust officials reported no damage there.

"We made it through OK," Sawdust publicist Rebecca Meekma said.

Electrical storms are nature's way of dealing with turbulent air.

But for us on the ground, the real benefits are blue skies and at

least a perceived reduction in humidity.

North Laguna resident Gigi Blount said maybe our memories are just

short, but she knows she has always advised friends to come and visit

in July, but not June.

"This year, we have not had the dream July weather that we are

used to," Blount said. "In a nutshell, it's not good."

Tourists are less critical.

"This is great," said Brandon Birich, visiting here with his wife,

Caroline, son Paul, and his son's friend Cullen Hennessy.

The Biriches don't even complain about the humidity.

"Hey, the ocean is right there, so you go swimming a couple of

times and cool off," Brandon Birich said.

The Northern California couple, used to a cooler climate, also did

not react the way locals did when the weather cooled as the storm

approached.

They took an evening walk, he in shorts and Reyn Spooner

short-sleeved shirt; she is in pedal pushers, tank top and flip

flops, while their hostess donned a sweatshirt for the stroll on city

streets.

"It's never cold here," Caroline Birich said. "It's always mild.

Even when it's hot, it's not too hot.

"As for Monday night's storm, I loved it."

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