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L.A. WEATHER REPORTS CAN MERIT SKEPTICISM.

Byline: Ralph E. Shaffer Local View

2005 has been a year of crazy weather. With a little finagling we may, or may not, have set an all-time rainfall record for downtown Los Angeles. We just ignored the official rainfall gauge, using instead a substitute provided by the DWP. But L.A. weather statisticians have often used unreliable instruments.

Take 1955, for instance. While Angelenos have suffered through a fairly hot summer this year, this week marks the 50th anniversary of the hottest eight consecutive days in the city's history. Banner headlines stretched across the front pages of the city's dailies each day, screaming record temperatures.

Beginning Wednesday, Aug. 31, the maximum each day through Wednesday, Sept. 7, was 100 or more. The 110 degrees recorded on Sept. 1 was the city's hottest day - ever. The previous maximum was 109 in 1891. More pointedly, the minimum at 81 equaled the normal high for that time of year.

Smog alerts compounded the problem. During the midst of the 100-plus heat, the Air Pollution Control District issued an alert that lasted for nearly four hours, the longest smog attack of the year.

The papers recorded a rising number of heat-related deaths. Pedestrians collapsed of heat prostration on downtown streets, and when the heat wave ended, the death toll attributed to it stood near 100.

In the midst of the crisis brush fires erupted. One in La Habra Heights took the life of county fire Capt. Glenn Rocky and four young firefighters. Power lines and trees fell in strong desert winds. Fortunately, the city water supply was abundant, but record usage reduced pressure in some areas to a trickle.

Agricultural losses ran into the millions. Turkeys withstood the heat fairly well, but a Bellflower chicken rancher reported a loss of 10,000 chickens. That was quickly overshadowed by estimates later in the week of a million chickens broiled to death, along with a quarter-million rabbits. Poultrymen lost an estimated $10 million.

This time it was the heat, not the humidity, that made folks testy. Fortunately, humidity readings at the peak temperatures were low, making the discomfort more bearable.

Not unlike the debate that arose over the weather bureau's rain measurements this year, some Angelenos complained that the thermometers were inaccurate. Believing that they were actually on the roof of the Federal Building, they argued that street temperatures exceeded those officially recorded. The weather bureau was forced to issue a statement, noting that the temperature was measured in a parking lot four feet above ground level.

But the critics were right. The instruments were in error. After five days of temperatures in the 100s, the bureau reported that on Labor Day the mercury only reached 99 and would be even cooler on Tuesday. But when Tuesday brought a reading of 104, officials examined their instruments and decided that an inaccurate reading was sent to their office in Inglewood. They corrected Monday's high to 100. That was followed by two more days in the 100s before the mercury settled into the still formidable upper 90s.

Limp from an eight-day siege, life gradually returned to normal in Los Angeles. One wag noted that ``soup on the rocks'' was no longer a necessary dinner choice. Lawyers put their coats back on in court. Police resumed wearing ties. Zookeepers no longer had to spray down the polar bears. But all Angelenos knew that quirky weather - such as a rainless January - wouldn't be far off.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 2, 2005
Words:575
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