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Springlike East Coast Winter

January 5, 2000

BOSTON (AP) _ Up and down the East Coast on Tuesday, people were playing golf, washing their cars in T-shirts and shorts and skiing without parkas.

The East Coast basked in unseasonable winter warmth as cold air remained locked in Canada. And with temperatures in the 60s, new record highs were set, a day after records were set in cities including Boston and Baltimore.

In the western Massachusetts city of Westfield, a wayward pelican, usually home in more tropical conditions, roosted on a pond.

At Ashbourne Country Club in suburban Philadelphia, golf course supervisor Mark Yates reported about 40 golfers by early afternoon Tuesday, after about 60 on Monday.

``We’ve absolutely been overwhelmed with players,″ Yates said. ``We’ve got the diehards playing, and we’ve got those fair weather golfers.″

In Myrtle Beach, S.C., families frolicked in the surf, while across the state, trees started to bud and flowers began to bloom.

The party was set to end, however, as a cold front pushed its way across the country Tuesday.

The unseasonably warm weather is just another problem for South Carolina farmers who are dealing with a drought that ravaged crops last year. Across the state, rainfall for 1999 was 16 to 20 inches below normal, said Mike Helfert, a climatologist with the state Natural Resources Department.

Repeated winter warm spells can wreak havoc on fruit and grain crops, said Dale Linvill, an agricultural meteorologist at Clemson University.

Meanwhile, the cleanup began in Owensboro, Ky., after a tornado _ more commonly seen in the spring _ destroyed hundreds of homes and injured at least 18 people Monday. The tornado was blamed in part on the unusually warm weather.

``We’re getting some unusual weather here, no doubt about it,″ said Dale Mohler, senior meteorologist at the AccuWeather national weather service.

Mohler pinned the warm spell on La Nina _ the cooling of Pacific Ocean temperatures off the coast of South America that alters normal jet stream patterns.

The Pacific jet stream has veered northward over the Eastern Seaboard in recent days, keeping the cold air in Canada and pulling up warm air from the Gulf Coast and Mexico, he said.

That front sparked the storm in Kentucky when it clashed with the warm air that had settled in the state, according to Jim Laver, deputy director of the National Weather Services Climate Prediction Center.

A collision of warm and cool air is all that’s needed to start a major storm, but in the winter, the temperature difference between the two air masses usually is not quite as extreme as it was Monday, Laver said.

The front didn’t wreak havoc on the rest of the East Coast, though. Some cities approached or broke high temperature marks Tuesday before the colder weather hit.

Savannah, Ga., broke its record high at 79 degrees, one more than the mark set in 1971. It was a major contrast to the 51 degree temperature a few hours west in Birmingham, Ala.

In Boston, warm air blew into the region in the early afternoon, raising the temperature in one hour from 43 degrees to 61, three degrees below a record for the date.

Providence, R.I., hit 60 degrees, one degree from its record for a Jan. 4.

In Philadelphia, the temperature hit 67, one degree off the record set in 1950 and well above the 36 degree temperature cross-state in Erie, Pa.

In Westfield, the brown pelican found its way to a local pond, the first time the warm weather bird was reported so far inland in Massachusetts. State Ornithologist Brad Blodgett said the bird was likely lost, rather than attracted to the warm weather.

The pelican had frostbitten feet, he said, adding that the warm weather probably made it easier for the bird to find fish.

Not everyone was pleased with the high temperatures.

Colleen Drew, co-owner of Drew’s True Value in Buffalo, N.Y., said rock salt sales were down in the traditionally snowbound city. Snowblower sales were also slow after a quick start.

``They aren’t using them at all,″ Drew said.

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