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Ocean Water Temperatures, of late in the high 50s Fahrenheit, are finally on the upswing this month as the daylight hours lengthen and the sun arcs higher overhead in the sky each day. It will take about five months of spring and summer sunshine before the ocean's enormous mass and large heat capacity fully responds to the input of solar energy. A maximum water temperature in 70s is expected by August or September.

Lupines, whose spiky, purple (sometimes yellow) flower clusters adorn grassy areas and disturbed patches of soil, are beginning to pop up all over San Diego County. If desert rainfall cooperates, you'll spot lupines along the sandy washes or in roadside gullies where water temporarily collects. Coastal lupines should be in full flower by late March. Higher-elevation lupines will be blooming in the mountain areas in May and early June. The generic name Lupinus, meaning "wolf," was given these plants in the belief that they robbed the soil of nutrients. Actually the reverse is true: Their ability to fix nitrogen through root nodules helps them survive on poor soils and may, in fact, enrich the soil around them.

Tree Heights can be easily measured this week if the sun shines at midday. On or near Wednesday, February 18, at or very near 12 noon, the sun as seen from San Diego County stands at an altitude of 45 degrees above the horizon. Under those conditions, the length of a shadow cast by a vertical tree trunk on a horizontal surface equals the height of the tree trunk. Even if you lack a measuring tape, you can still use your own feet to pace the distance heel-to-toe: the length of an average adult male's shoe sole, for example, is very close to one foot.

No Moon graces the Valentine's Day evening sky this year, but romantically inclined individuals can still impress their significant others with their knowledge of astronomy by pointing out the planet Venus, blazing like a wedding-ring diamond in the western sky after dark. Venus reaches greatest brilliancy during its current "evening-star" apparition on Thursday, February 19. Couples staying out late can catch the moon -- currently well past full phase -- rising over the east horizon at around 11:30 p.m.

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