- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - While the winter heat was on its way out in many areas of the West on Wednesday, Phoenix had its earliest 90-degree day on record.

The National Weather Service originally forecast a high of 91 degrees, which would break a nearly 30-year-old record for the city. By early afternoon, the temperature stood at 83, and meteorologists began backing off the 90-degree prediction.

But the thermometer at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport reached 89 degrees around 3:40 p.m. and hit 90 about a half-hour later.

The records go back to 1895, and the earliest 90-degree days in Phoenix’s history were on Feb. 24, 1904 and again on Feb. 24, 1986, meteorologists said. The previous record high for Feb. 17 was 88 degrees, set in 2014.

The normal temperature for this time of year in Phoenix is 71 degrees. Last year, the first 90-degree day didn’t occur until March 16.

The winter heat wasn’t lost on Buckeye resident Ashley Salgado, who said hiking trails near her home have emptied in recent days - at least when it comes to people. “There are a lot more lizards out, and I’m afraid there are going to be a lot more rattlesnakes out too,” she said.

Experts confirm Salgado’s fears. Warmer temperatures have awakened the reptiles during a time they are typically in hibernation in Arizona.

The Northwest Fire District outside Tucson started getting calls in the last two weeks from panicked residents about rattlers in their yards and patios, something they don’t usually see until late March and early April. Firefighters catch the snakes and take them out to the desert.

Meanwhile, an Oregon cold front was bringing a soggy end to a brief heat wave that had delighted Californians flocking outdoors.

The National Weather Service said winds would increase throughout Wednesday, with rains starting by mid-afternoon in the San Francisco Bay Area.

After three days of record-breaking heat, a new system was expected to bring a quarter-inch to a half-inch of rain to most parts of the region Wednesday and Thursday.

The system was expected to drop between 1 and 2 feet of new snow in California’s highest peaks, the National Weather Service said.

Beaches in Southern California were crowded after the holiday weekend saw record-breaking heat from Los Angeles to San Diego. The high in downtown Los Angeles hit 90 degrees on Tuesday, breaking the old record of 88 for the day that was set in 1977, according to the weather service.

San Diego’s high of 89 was 8 degrees above the 1981 record. The airport in San Francisco recorded 72, beating a 2007 high.

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