CAPE ELIZABETH – For Rhonda Lichtenstein and her family, relief on Sunday came from numbingly cold ocean waves and a sweet-smelling sea breeze.

The weekend’s record-breaking burst of sweltering weather was a welcome, if slightly sweaty, change of pace after a dreary Memorial Day weekend, when skies seemed only to brighten as parents and children were ready to go back to work and school.

“This weekend we’ve been here all three days,” Lichtenstein, of South Portland, said Sunday. She sat happily in a beach chair near the dunes at Kettle Cove Beach State Park as her grandchildren ran and played on the sand.

“Last weekend we did a lot of inside stuff, which was not fun for the grandchildren,” Lichtenstein said. “We used to go up the coast. I had forgotten how beautiful our beaches are here.”

State officials at Two Lights State Park, Kettle Cove Beach State Park and Crescent Beach State Park estimated there were 6,172 visitors to the three sites on Saturday, as people got their fill of sunshine before a string of strong storms moved into the area Sunday night.

At Crescent Beach on Saturday, cars lined up on Route 77 for a half mile before they could turn into the gated park, said Sharon Mullen-Campbell, who runs the concession stand there. Mullen-Campbell said she opened for the season on Memorial Day — two days later than she planned because of the rain. If the last two days are any indication, it will be a good season, she said.

“We’ll take 90 days of this,” she said.

At Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg, manager Brian Murray estimated the beach had 2,600 visitors on Saturday.

Counts of visitors for Sunday at all four locations were still being tabulated, but anecdotal evidence pointed to smaller crowds than the day before.

The Saturday deluge of the tanned and the pasty was helped by some convenient timing, too. Low tide occurred at about 11 a.m., making Crescent Beach extra wide for visitors to run and play on. The day’s high of 90 degrees was also a record for Portland, breaking the 1995 temperature of 88 degrees.

The heat did little to warm the water, though. Kristin Penna lingered Sunday at the ocean’s edge at Kettle Cove Beach while her son, Michael, splashed around in the shallows.

“We needed the rain, and now we have the sun,” Penna said as her 5-year-old son shrieked with surprise at every wave. Less than a year ago, Penna and her husband moved to Maine from the Philadelphia area, where summer means insufferable humidity and soaring temperatures.

“It was just dead heat in Philly,” she said. “There was no breeze.”

Tom Colton of Scarborough, who was mostly covered up in a T-shirt, shorts, Red Sox hat, and sunglasses at Crescent Beach on Sunday, said his Memorial Day weekend plans to have a family picnic and then go camping were spoiled by the rain. After a bout of colder weather in weeks past, he was enjoying the turnaround.

“We went from 40-degree weather to 80-degree weather,” Colton said.

Now the weather is set to change once again.

A string of strong thunderstorms and a slow-moving cold front will push east through New England Monday and Tuesday, said meteorologist Steve Capriola of the National Weather Service office in Gray. By late Sunday afternoon, the storm system had already downed trees in Bethel and Fryeburg, but winds were expected to slow by the time the system reached the coast.

“(The front) is going to bring an end to this heat and this humid weather,” Capriola said. “It will be noticeably cooler and less humid on Tuesday.”

 

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at [email protected]