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Seldom Heard in January: Hot Enough for Ya?

By Eric Rich and Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 7, 2007

At an outdoor pool in Bethesda, dozens of people in bathing suits spent the day lounging on beach chairs. Golfers packed the Langston Legacy Golf Course in Northeast Washington in such numbers that every cart was rented. And a large room at the D.C. central library was closed due to "excessive heat."

Across the region yesterday, it was more summer than winter. Parking lots overflowed at the C&O Canal towpath, the National Zoo and anywhere else outdoor leisure beckoned. "Any time you can run shirtless in January in D.C., it's a good day," said Paul Bousel, fresh off the Mount Vernon Trail where bikes zipped by behind him.

Even by the standards of a year in which winter has seemed to miss the Washington region, yesterday was extraordinary. The 73 degrees at Reagan National Airport broke a record dating to 1950. (The highest January temperature ever recorded in Washington is 79, on Jan. 26, 1950.)

"Absurdly warm," was how National Weather Service meteorologist Dennis Feltgen described yesterday.

Elsewhere in the country, unusual and less-welcome weather patterns prevailed. Denver was hammered by a third major snowstorm in as many weeks, contributing to an avalanche on Route 40 west of the city that buried cars in up to 15 feet of snow and injured eight people [story, A5]. Tens of thousands remained without power in western Kansas and Nebraska because of snowfalls last week.

High temperatures in the Washington region were expected to reach just the mid-50s today and settle into the 40s by Wednesday, but the region seemed blissfully lost yesterday in its fleeting moment of summer. In part because of El NiƱo, cold air remained locked far to the north and blasts of warm air billowed up from the south, said Brian LaSorsa, also a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"Basically, our air sources are coming from the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico, as opposed to from Canada," LaSorsa said.

It was a day for convertibles and tank tops, iced coffee and flip-flops. Coats didn't leave closets, and some people who wore long sleeves said they regretted it.

"It's a little too much," said Benjamin Summa, just over from Germany and exploring the city in jeans, a sweater and a corduroy sports coat. "For the first time, I was sweating in January."

In Arlington, a line of cars slowly snaked its way into the crammed parking lot for the Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial.

Relaxing in his Mazda convertible, the top down, Robert Simkins said he had decided to seize the day by jogging on the trail rather than, as he had planned, around his neighborhood.

A few miles from the Mount Vernon Trail, at Bon Air Park, children played as parents stood guard in T-shirts and sandals. Patsy Calustro, 12, said her family had decided to do as it does on warm summer evenings.

"Grill," she said, "and float in the river. We brought floats with us."

On the Mall, locals and tourists alike played a game of "summer, sort of." Here were people flying kites, there were bare-chested touch-football players. Some hoped, in vain, that the Tidal Basin's famous cherry blossoms might bloom.

But there were also reminders that the calendar does not lie: Refreshment stands were shuttered, some fields were cordoned off for maintenance, and pedal boats remained tucked away.

A strange mixture of June and January was also evident at the National Gallery's Sculpture Garden ice rink, where skaters tried to capitalize on the winter summer by skating in shirt-sleeves, even shorts. "Best of both worlds is the way I see it," said Danisha Mills, 46, in town with her two sons from Pittsburgh.

On M Street in Georgetown, people strolled in T-shirts representing any number of schools, colleges, summer camps and clothing brands.

A smattering of swimmers are regulars at the heated outdoor pool at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase YMCA. But that number multiplied dramatically as dozens more seized the opportunity to soak up the sun.

"It's been pretty exciting today," said Ben Wokas, one of several managers at the YMCA.

At the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, the philosophy division closed at noon. Shawn McDermott, a librarian, said outside temperatures, which normally would have drawn heat from the building, coupled with a malfunctioning heating system, caused that room to become intolerably warm.

For many, the opportunity to trade snowflakes for sun rays was, though irresistible, a little scary.

"This is not how the Earth should be," said Hilary Nalven, 22, strolling along Connecticut Avenue near the zoo after eating with friends at Open City, where outside tables were suddenly popular.

Alan Reppert, a meteorologist at AccuWeather.com, said that, despite views to the contrary, global warming is not responsible for the region's unusually mild winter.

"The world is not coming to an end," Reppert said.

And, such protestations aside, people generally found a way yesterday to suppress that anxiety, at least judging by the sun-loving crowds.

Jason Hannon said he and his wife, Kim, ordinarily would be bundled up in their Fredericksburg, Va., home with the heat turned up high. Yesterday, their 18-month-old daughter, Carmen, wearing a pink T-shirt and pants, made her first trip to the zoo.

"We brought a little coat for her, but I really don't think we're going to need it," Kim Hannon said. "January and no coat. It's almost unbelievable."

Staff writers Jamie Stockwell, Martin Weil and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.

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