OCEAN CITY, N.J. - As the waves crashed Sunday, a young couple spread a blanket on the beach and settled down to enjoy an unseasonably warm winter day.
Both teenagers were barefoot. He had stripped down to shorts. For a few moments, they looked out at the ocean and considered doing what would normally be unthinkable three days before Christmas on the East Coast - going into the water.
Then they turned back. For as last-minute shoppers across the region went coatless, some even wearing shorts and flip-flops, Sunday's burst of spring on the second official day of winter wasn't exactly Miami Beach at the Jersey Shore.
"We thought it was going to be a bit warmer," Katie Buxton said, blinking water out of her eyes, her blond curls slicked to her forehead - by the rain, not seawater.
A lot of other people thought so, too.
Though the temperature in Philadelphia hit a record 68 degrees, Mother Nature spent the day playing tricks on Ocean City.
At 11 a.m., as weather apps indicated a balmy 62, the reality on the ground at the Shore was at least 10 degrees cooler. The rain many anticipated would arrive in time for the Eagles game Sunday night arrived about 10 hours ahead of schedule. And the sun, which was expected to make a few cameos in the morning, never showed.
Ken Kimchuk, for one, wasn't bitter about the false advertising.
"Listen. A rainy day at the Shore beats any day in Philly," said Kimchuk, who lives in Philadelphia and owns a vacation house in Egg Harbor Township.
He ventured to the boardwalk Sunday to stop by Playland's Castaway Cove, an amusement park that sells next year's tickets at half price ahead of the holidays. Kimchuk has bought them as a Christmas gift for his daughter Samantha for as long as he can remember. He took her along this year because, at this point, she knows she's getting them.
Behind the glass windows of a closed Dairy Queen, which doubles as the ticket booth in winter, Janice Branwood counted out 15 sheets for Kimchuk. Branwood said business would have been great if it were sunny. But she knew better than to quibble with a 50-degree day in December.
It could be much, much worse, she said.
A few years ago, Branwood said, the city had to hold its annual New Year's Day run on the beach when the icy boardwalk couldn't be cleared. Typically, Branwood said, the city plows a path through the snow so holiday shoppers can still reach the few pizza places, taffy stores, and arcades open during the winter.
As he and his daughter walked away from the window, both in warm coats, Kimchuk said he'd learned to anticipate misguided weather forecasts.
"It's the Shore," he said. "You have to plan for it."
Many learned that lesson Sunday.
Runners on the Ninth Street Bridge wore shorts and T-shirts. Families on the boardwalk moved in single file beneath the patchy awnings to dodge raindrops.
Georgeann Newman, who drove from Philadelphia on Sunday morning with the windows down and who wore a skirt so dipping her feet in the water would be easier, warmed up at Shriver's Salt Water Taffy & Fudge and questioned her choice of clothing.
Outside the shop, Abby Coulter said she too had anticipated warmer weather when choosing her outfit - a floral sundress.
"I'm freezing," she said, rocking back and forth, a pair of black patent flats offering little in the way of warmth.
Her father's fiancée, Kate Kramitz, said they drove from Mount Laurel for a family holiday party and stopped by the Shore first to have a slice of pizza at Manco & Manco and walk the boardwalk.
They did both. The walk was just shorter, under an umbrella and Coulter held her skirt tight around her with her hands.
By about 1 p.m., the rain was still falling but the temperature rose. In Atlantic City, the closest location to Ocean City measured by the National Weather Service, a high of 71 on Sunday topped the record of 65 reached in 1998. In Philadelphia, the temperature also crushed a record of 64 degrees set that same year.
The average temperature for Dec. 23 is 36 degrees.
Janet Cristini said she didn't mind the rain as she waited with her family for the next of the free horse-drawn carriages offered by the Ocean City Retail Merchants Association from Thanksgiving through Christmas. She had tried to be prepared for the weather, but then sent her husband, in the car with all the umbrellas, home to wrap gifts.
At least the carriage was covered, she said as she held her granddaughter's pint-sized Hello Kitty umbrella overhead.
Bryan Cottrell, who works for the merchants' association, said that despite the rain, the warm-up brought out one of the biggest crowds in weeks. When it was 20 degrees and snowy - picturesque winter weather - no one showed up, he said.
"It's a shame it's not sunny," Shane Mills said as his horse, Buck, reared its head back gently. "Then it'd be really nice."
"Yeah," Cottrell agreed as he helped another family into the carriage. "But then I'd rather be out on my boat."
As the region warmed to around 70 Sunday, here's how that compared to highs in places where it is supposed to be toasty in December:
Melbourne, Australia: 84
Cape Town, South Africa: 81
Cancun, Mexico: 86
Source: Weather UndergroundEndText