PHOENIX - With much of the Northeast gripped by snow and ice storms, the Southwest is riding a record heat wave that sent people to beaches and golf courses in droves Friday.
People in Phoenix and Southern California were sunning themselves in 80-degree weather, with forecasters predicting more of the same through the weekend.
Both areas are known for warm weather, but the National Weather Service said the temperatures are uncharacteristically hot for this time of year. The heat is the result of a high-pressure system off the coast of Southern California.
In the Phoenix area, the many Midwestern retirees and visitors who flock to the desert each winter were thrilled about the 80-degree days - and not being in the miserable cold back home.
Rocky Krizan, a Chisago City, Minn., retiree who spends his winters in the Phoenix area, said his daughter and two grandchildren just arrived from Minnesota and were stunned by the difference.
"When they left there at 5 o'clock in the morning, it was minus 24. That's actual temperature and wind chill," he said.
By 11 a.m. in Phoenix, they were at the pool in mid-70s temperatures.
But not everyone in the region is celebrating the sunshine. The Southwest is in the throes of a severe drought that has seen cities like Phoenix go nearly two months without any noticeable precipitation, and farmers and managers of the region's water supply would gladly see a dose of heavy rain instead of the blue skies.
President Barack Obama visited California's Central Valley on Friday to meet with local leaders about a drought that is the state's worst in more than a century. The president announced about $173 million in federal financial aid to the state.
On the other side of the country, frigid cold has paralyzed the East Coast and left more than 1 million homes in the South without power. At least 21 deaths have been blamed on the treacherous weather, including that of pregnant woman struck by a mini-snowplow in a New York City parking lot.
In the Southwest, the weather service says several cities in Arizona may break February records during the President's Day weekend. Phoenix tied the record on Friday for that date at 85 degrees. The city is expected to reach 87 on Saturday and 85 on Sunday. Both would be new highs for those dates.
In Tucson, the mercury is expected to hit 89. In southwest Arizona, Yuma is expected to reach 90 Friday and 91 on Saturday.
National Weather Service officials say the high pressure system that caused this heat spell is nothing unusual. Meteorologist Dan Leins said the system is just part of a pattern the Southwest happens to be caught up in.
"Across the southwestern U.S., we've had this high (system) in place for the past couple of weeks," Leins said. "It strengthens and weakens. When it strengthens, temperatures climb - and that's what's happening up here."
It hasn't rained in Phoenix since Dec. 20, but the region has faced longer stretches, Leins added.
Areas of low pressure in other parts of the West, from Oregon to Utah, have brought unexpected snowfall earlier this month. The snow in those wetter states has resulted in avalanches and unexpected rain.
Southern California, however, was awash Friday in summery conditions under warm, clear skies after a week of record-setting temperatures caused by a high-pressure front.
Temperatures hit the 80s in inland areas, and at least one community, Saugus, simmered at 90 at midday. Beachgoers found plenty of sunshine but much less warmth as highs along the immediate coast ranged only from the 60s to low 70s.
The weather service predicted a general cooling of Southern California temperatures by Saturday.
Meanwhile, locals and visitors have been taking advantage of the weather around metropolitan Phoenix. Tim Ramos, head golf professional at the Continental Golf Club in Scottsdale, said the course was considerably busy Friday. But he added that the near 90-degree weather outside may have scared off a few people.
"People who come down from Nebraska to get away from 2 degrees don't come here for 90. They come here for 75 and 80," Ramos said.
Norman Lansden, Jr., 62, originally from St. Louis, spent the day golfing out at Encanto Golf Course in Phoenix.
"It's 80 degrees here. I can walk around in short sleeves and even short pants if I chose to," Lansden said while enjoying a day on the putting green."
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