Arizona State students Joel Larson, 18, front, and Anthony Moffitt, 18, enjoy the Arizona sun by laying by the pool at Sun Devil Fitness Complex in Tempe. While most of the country is under a freeze, Phoenix is enjoying above average temperatures in the 80's. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Cheryl Evans)
PHOENIX (AP) - With much of the Northeast gripped by snow and ice storms, the Southwest is riding a heat wave that is setting record high temperatures and sent people to beaches and golf courses in droves Friday.
People in Phoenix and Los Angeles were sunning themselves in 80-degree weather, with forecasters predicting more of the same through the weekend.
Both cities 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.
"When high pressure is stationary for long periods of time, it leads to warming temps and clear-sky days. We don't have any weather disturbances coming through to disturb that," said Charlotte Dewey, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Phoenix.
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.
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In the Southwest, the weather service says several cities in Arizona may break February records during the President's Day weekend. Phoenix is expected to reach 87 on Saturday and 85 on Sunday. Both would be new highs for those dates.
Down south in Tucson, the mercury is expected to hit 89. But Tucson could possibly receive its first 90-degree day of the year, Dewey added. In southwest Arizona, the city of Yuma is expected to reach 90 Friday and 91 on Saturday.
The rising temperatures in Phoenix don't necessarily mean the city is in for a hotter than usual summer, however, Dewey said.
Southern California 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 National 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 facility 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.
The unusually warm weather that Phoenix has seen since January has led to above-average business, he said.
"Since the start of the year, we haven't had one single day that wasn't perfect," Ramos said. "We're doing 40 more rounds a day on average."
Rocky Krizan, a Chisago City, Minn., retiree who spends his winters in Phoenix, 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.
The Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden was already seeing people trek in Friday morning for an outdoor glass art exhibit. Spokesman John Sallot said the crowd is also partly drawn to the garden by the warm weather.
"If it was 60 degree and cloudy, we probably wouldn't see so many people. As soon as it's 90 degrees or less, people are here. We like that good window of weather," Sallot said.
Organizers of outdoor events have been using the weather as a selling point. The Arizona Craft Brewers Guild, which is putting on a beer festival Saturday at a Phoenix park, has already sold nearly 4,000 of 5,000 available tickets.
"We've seen a spike in ticket sales the past two days, and I think it's directly related to the weather and people wanting to do something outside," said Tiffany Shultz, an organizer.
Organizers have been trumpeting the 80-plus degree temperatures on social media, Shultz said.
" 'Perfect weather, 120 craft beers and you' ... is the pitch I've been sending to people," she said.
Associated Press writers Josh Hoffner in Phoenix and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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