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Southern Heat, Western Wildfires May Dominate U.S. Summer

The southern U.S. will probably be warmer than normal from June to August while the West may have major outbreaks of wildfires, government forecasters said.

Temperatures are expected to be above normal for the next three months from interior portions of California to the East Coast and from southern New Jersey to Florida, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Maryland.

There are too many conflicting signals for an accurate forecast for the Northeast, including New York City, said Jon Gottschalck, a forecaster at the climate center. For that region, the chances that the summer will be hotter, cooler or just normal are all equal, Gottschalck said.

How hot large cities along the East Coast will get this summer may affect electricity demand and natural gas markets. The low price of natural gas has led to more power plants using the fuel to produce electricity.

The western U.S. may have severe wildfires this summer, said Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

A lack of snowpack in the western mountains will mean less water in the region. Coupled with current moderate to severe drought conditions across the Southwest, that’s left vegetation dried out and ready to burn, Carbin said.

“The conditions out there aren’t going to improve very much,” Carbin said during a conference call with reporters. “We may see a pretty significant wildfire season developing.”

Dangerous Pacific Storms

Carbin said storms moving inland from the Pacific with high winds and lightening are potentially dangerous.

In June 2008, such a storm sparked off more than 2,000 fires in a single day, leading to one of California’s worst wildfire seasons, according to the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Gottschalck said forecasters also can’t be certain how much rain will fall across the Midwest and Great Plains during the period. That’s partly because forecasters don’t know if this year will bring an El Nino, a pattern in which waters of the central Pacific Ocean become warmer than normal.

The ocean is experiencing normal conditions since a cooling of the water, called a La Nina, ended last month. El Nino and La Nina conditions affect weather across the U.S. The climate center will issue its next forecast on the Pacific on June 7.

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