Thursday, Sept. 14, 2006 | Tuesday morning I drove to work in a cool, light fog. Tuesday afternoon, when I came out of the building, alarm tingled at the back of my neck. In those few hours, the weather had turned warm and muggy, with considerable clouds of the type associated with monsoonal moisture.

Then the late afternoon weather report called for a low-pressure trough, unusually strong for this time of year, poised to move south, reaching us Thursday with our first taste of autumn weather.

“Uh oh,” I said.

It is the beginning of Acorn Fever season, and it looks ominous. Acorn Fever strikes in Southern California with the first cool snap that usually arrives in September, but has been known to reach us in August. This summer has been so hot and muggy that, in August when the temperature stayed in the 80s, at least in the East County, we felt comfortable.

But no real cool snap. Not until now. Today, Thursday, is supposed to be cloudy, and markedly cooler – autumn weather, the weatherman said! – than earlier in the week, with – and this is the most ominous part – brisk, damp, cool breezes off the ocean, the kind that when you wake up in the morning triggers the instinct to pull on a flannel shirt before you go out for the paper. I fear that, tomorrow morning, Friday, thousands across the county will feel tugged by just such an instinct.

You will want to pull on the flannel shirt, and sweatpants. You will feel a craving for oatmeal for breakfast, with brown sugar, butter, stewed fruit and cream. Not milk, but cream. Go ahead and indulge yourself – after this summer, we have earned a moment of coziness – but just be aware that these are all symptoms of Acorn Fever.

People who pay no heed will pull out their fall tweeds to dress for work. They will walk out through the brisk, wet ocean breezes to their cars and, starting the engine, suddenly feel an urge to go not to work, but to Julian. They will be seized by a need for a hot wedge of apple pie, with a slice of sharp cheddar melting on top. Without thinking, they will reach down and turn the car heater on.

At that point, they have officially become victims. Downtown, you will see them in the streets, a tweedy, brown and burgundy crowd with collars turned up, making plans to find a bowl of chili, or stew, or corned beef and cabbage, for lunch. In the suburbs, you will find citizens in L.L. Bean gear, out on their green lawns, raking leaves that aren’t there. By evening, the area will be scented with the smoke curling into the air from hundreds of fireplaces, built by victims of Acorn Fever. At woodlots, it will be the busiest day of the year. On beds, quilts and blankets will appear, and afghans will sprout on couches and easy chairs.

Then, overnight, the heat will return. It always does, and many victims become trapped. On Saturday, paramedics will stream across the county, pulling people away from their blazing fireplaces, out of their living rooms, into the relative coolness of a typical, 90-degree day in San Diego in September.

Apparently we at least get a break this year. Acorn Fever, the worst of it, looks like it will settle in on Friday. Victims will be home, in front of their fireplaces, on Saturday, when the heat returns, instead of trapped downtown in tweeds and furs. Emergency responders will be spared the pitiful sight of a limp wad of fall clothing, piled in the middle of a pool of sweat on the sidewalk, where once a living person existed.

The biggest action will be shifted to mountain highways, jammed by victims responding to the call to go to Julian. Sheriffs and officers will be in a real sweat, stopping the traffic, getting it turned around, pulling open doors if they have to, to get the heaters turned off and help people out of their Gore-Tex.

It won’t make the evening news. It never does. Every year, we get slammed by Acorn Fever in September, and sunstorms in January, and nobody in the East pays the slightest bit of attention. They think we have it easy. I’d like to give them a piece of my mind, but now I have to go stir the chili, and build a fire.

Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at www.michaelgrant.com.

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