“Stay safe!” went the mantra, as tens of thousands of cyclists zipped around Los Angeles this weekend for CicLAvia, an event to celebrate public spaces.
Fellow riders, pedestrians and police shouted it as much in greeting as exhortation since clearly the safest thing was to be indoors clutching an ice pack with your feet up and the air-conditioning blasting.
The danger, for once, was not motorists, or potholes, or muggers, but heat. Record, scalding temperatures fried the city and much of southern California with temperatures exceeding 100F, defying a calendar that said autumn.
Staying safe meant wearing a hat, drinking lots of water and seeking medical advice at the first sign of hallucinations. “Man oh man, hot!” howled one man, apparently happily, as he whizzed down the Broadway theatre district. A friend close behind mimicked the Wizard of Oz’s wicked witch: “Melting! I’m melting!”
The four-day furnace eased on Monday, with temperatures dropping to the low 90s, but another intense heatwave is due this weekend, bringing fresh risks of wildfires and power outages.
The San Fernando valley hit 104F (40C) on Saturday, making Pasadena’s 102F seem merciful, and Torrance’s 96F positively cool. Most Angelenos hunkered indoors, close to a fan or air-conditioning, or splashed in the sea, swimming pools and fountains.
On Sunday an estimated 50,000, however, participated in the annual CicLAvia, a cycling-centric event which closed streets around downtown and east LA.
There was little shade and you could have fried an egg on the tarmac but spirits were high. Evangelical Christians handed out water bottles with recruitment pamphlets – double salvation – while other bystanders used water pistols and hoses to spray the sweating, panting hordes. “Thank you, thank you,” we yelled, pedalling through the vapours.
The 2nd Street tunnel, usually a roaring darkness of engines and fumes, was transformed into an oasis of shade and clicking wheels.
“California has mistaken October for July. In the Sahara,” declared BuzzFeed, which compiled tweets from the frontline. “It’s so hot Superman just requested a black car from Uber!” said one. “Live tweeting myself bursting into flames,” said another. And: “Too hot for condoms.”
A high-pressure system over the western US, along with Santa Ana winds, which blow across deserts before hitting southern California, generated the heat.
Combined with three years of drought, which has turned many farms to dust, wilderness areas are a tinderbox. The US Forest Service and LA County fire department have bolstered firefighting crews and sent extra equipment to strategic locations.
“We’ve got wind, heat, the perfect combination, everything in alignment for a potential brushfire,” fire captain Rich Moody warned last week as he patrolled a southern California hillside.
A recent report in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, which investigated 16 extreme weather events in 2013, found that human-caused climate change played a role in heatwaves.