The fireworks that fill the air at the beginning of July may be just a prelude to the fiery temperatures that are forecast to bathe most of the western states and a portion of the Northeast next month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center reported in its monthly outlook Thursday. The Midwest, meanwhile, may escape the hellish heat and could see below-normal temperatures.

For most of the summer -- July, August and September -- the NOAA is forecasting normal temperatures across most of the country. In the Great Plains, the forecast carries an equal chance of below-, near- or above-normal temperatures, and along the Southern California coast, temperatures are forecast to be normal or slightly below normal over the three-month period.

"There is good agreement...for warmth in much of the West and to a lesser degree in the East," noted NOAA forecaster Huug Van Den Dool. "In the center of the country we predict an enhanced probability for below-normal temperatures...in some areas from Texas to Iowa...all of Alaska is indicated as warm by most tools." The NOAA also is predicting above-normal precipitation from Texas to Iowa, "which fits in with persistence of the general pattern that is in place."

There may be a hint of good news for hurricane watchers in the report. The NOAA reported that atmospheric and oceanic conditions indicate that La Nina is "much less likely" in the next few months than earlier forecasts indicated. La Nina is an unusual cooling of the Pacific Ocean's equatorial waters, and it may be an indication of an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season.

If La Nina makes an appearance, the NOAA said it would not arrive before November and would likely have a limited impact on the weather. In May, NOAA forecast an active Atlantic hurricane season this year, with 13-17 named storms, of which three to five could become major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher (see Daily GPI, May 23).

"There is some uncertainty this year as to whether or not La Nina will form, and if it does how strong it will be," Gerry Bell, NOAA's lead seasonal hurricane forecaster, said last month. NOAA had forecast in May that "La Nina could form in the next one to three months."

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