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Tampa Bay bakes while freak snowstorm batters much of U.S.

Even in the Phoenix area, the vaunted "Valley of the Sun," it wasevident that the weather had gotten out of hand.

A freak snowstorm was causing a run on a rather unusual item. "We've sold about 4 1/2 dozen stocking caps," said Stu Stubbs, an assistant golf pro at The Boulders resort in Carefree.

About 2,100 miles away, in Florida, the temperature in the Tampa Bay area was tying another record for high temperatures.

"February and March are sold out," said Glynna Hanchette, advertising and promotions manager for the Don Cesar Beach Resort on St. Petersburg Beach.

The difference between February in Florida and February in the rest of the country was seldom better illustrated than it was on Thursday, when the Sunshine state continued to bask in record temperatures while the rest of the country dealt with blizzards, cold and generally yucky weather.

Here, briefly, is what the rest of country was putting up with: Chicago's O'Hare Airport was shut down because of snow; parts of Michigan got 8 inches of snow; and schools were closed in parts of Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Kansas and Missouri.

And here, briefly, is what the Suncoast was putting up with: A high of 84 degrees, tying a record set only last year. And more of the same is in store.

"Just a little above normal," said Charles Paxton of the National Weather Service in Ruskin. "Oh, I love it."

A business boon

Thursday marked the eighth day since the beginning of the year that a record high has been tied or broken in the Tampa Bay area.

In fact, it was the fifth such day this month.

The warm trend stems from a competing high pressure system over Bermuda and a low pressure system over Arkansas. The result has produced a southerly tropical wind on the Floridian peninsula.

It also has helped business.

Tampa Bay area resorts were booked full this week, and several hotel managers predicted that 1990 is likely to match or surpass last year as one of the best in beach tourism.

"We're up a little bit over last year," said Andy Bergeron, marketing director for four large Clearwater Beach resort hotels. "We have 400 rooms, and business is very good."

Said Margot Quillen, marketing director for the Bilmar Beach Resort of Treasure Island: "Most of the snowbirds are sick of the gray skies up north by now."

The warm weather is expected to continue through at least Saturday.

There is a slight chance of rain, but high temperatures are expected to remain in the 80s.

The folks in Champaign, Ill., would love to hear that.

'Snow and Ice'

Champaign police spokeswoman Rebecca Hall was offering a rather succinct message on Thursday: "If you don't live in Champaign, we don't want you to come to Champaign," not even for this weekend's high school wrestling tournament at the University of Illinois.

That's the way it was across much of country Thursday as snow and ice cut a swath from Southern California to New England.

Snowfall totaled 8 to 10 inches in northern Illinois and Michigan.

Nearly 18 inches fell in parts of the Hood River Valley in northwestern Oregon, and up to 6 inches fell across New York state.

"We had more cars off the road, more accidents to report than you could shake a stick at," said New York state police dispatcher David Veshia at Albany.

Farther west, American Airlines canceled all flights Wednesday at Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport because planes that were de-iced at the passenger gate were refreezing before they could clear the runway on takeoff.

And in Phoenix, Thursday's low was 32 degrees. "Snowbirds" were dismayed.

"People can't believe they came out here for this," said Loretta Taylor in Apache Junction, Ariz., outside Phoenix.

- Staff writers Karen Datko, Piper Jones, Jean Carey, Chris Cosdon, Elijah Gosier and Betty Jean Miller, and the Associated Press, contributed to this report.