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East, Southwest Scorched by Late Spring Heat Wave

The official start of summer 2011 is still more than a week away, but record-high temperatures, a raging Arizona wildfire, a Texas drought and the first Pacific hurricane of the year make it feel like the season is already in full swing.

Heat that has been building in the nation's midsection pushed into the East Wednesday and wasn't expected to mellow until at least Friday, according to AccuWeather.com Senior Expert Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

In Minneapolis the temperature soared to 103 degrees Tuesday, shattering a record high of 95 degrees set in 2004. Temperatures reached record levels in Newark, NJ, and the Baltimore-Washington area Wednesday and were expected to be near 100 degrees Thursday across much of the Mid-Atlantic. Temperatures in the 90s were expected from New York, Hartford, CT, Boston and as far north as Burlington, VT, according to Sosnowski. A total of five possibly heat-related deaths were reported in Maryland, Tennessee and in Milwaukee, WI, where a record high of 97 degrees was recorded Tuesday.

"While the heat will be nasty enough throughout the region, the large cities will have the worst of it as usual," Sosnowski said.

The heat was expected to ease across the Northeast Friday, according to Sosnowski.

The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) recently forecast summer peak usage would reach 32,712 MW, about 2% lower than the 2010 summer peak of 33,452 MW and nearly 4% lower than New York's all-time record peak of 33,939 MW, which was recorded Aug. 2, 2006.

Despite the initial blast of heat, AccuWeather.com and other forecasters have said they expect the end of the La Nina -- a cooling of ocean surface temperatures off the western coast of South America -- to deliver temperatures averaging cooler than normal to much of the country this summer (see Daily GPI, June 1). WSI Corp. recently said it, too, expects temperatures to average cooler than normal in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley areas over the next three months (see Daily GPI, May 24). The rest of the country will have a warmer-than-normal summer, according to WSI forecasters. And MDA EarthSat Weather has said a faster-than-expected transition to El Nino/Southern Oscillation-neutral conditions this spring suggests that the summer "will be approximately 14.5% cooler than last summer" (see Daily GPI, May 18).

MDA EarthSat on Thursday increased the heat in both its six- to 10-day forecast and its temperature estimates for July. "The strongest, most persistent heat will still reside in Texas [June 14-18], though a couple days could spike hotter early in Northern California as well," the forecaster said. A band of 1-1.9 degree-above-normal temperatures, which MDA EarthSat previously said would stretch from the Pacific Northwest south to the Gulf of Mexico in July, will extend to include much of the South and Mid-Atlantic areas, according to the updated forecast.

AccuWeather.com forecasters have said the lingering effects of a recent La Nina event could bring cooler-than-normal temperatures to the Great Lakes area and prompt drought conditions to expand out of the southern Plains this summer. A drought that began last October is the driest eight-month period Texas has experienced in modern history, according to climatologist John Nielson-Gammon. Only droughts in the state in 1918 and 1956 were more severe because they were preceded by other dry years, Nielson-Gammon told the Houston Chronicle.

Wildfires that broke out across Texas during the drought are now being reported in other rain-starved areas. On Monday Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer declared a state of emergency in response to wildfires raging in Apache and Greenlea counties in southeast Arizona. By Wednesday night, the Wallow Fire, which began May 29, was burning south and west of Alpine, AZ, and covered approximately 389,000 acres, according to the Arizona Emergency Information Network (AEIN). Thousands of residents had been evacuated and other communities in Arizona and neighboring New Mexico had been issued pre-evacuation alerts. More than 1,900 firefighters were battling the blaze, according to AEIN.

The wildfire was about 15 miles from El Paso Electric's (EPE) Springerville-Luna transmission line Wednesday night, the company said.

"In the event that the transmission lines are compromised or damaged as a result of fires or other threats, EPE's capability to import power from Palo Verde may be reduced and as a result EPE may have to institute power curtailment/conservation measures," EPE said. "Some of these measures may include rolling blackouts."

A week into the 2011 hurricane season, no named storms have formed in the Atlantic Basin; however, Adrian, the first tropical storm to form in the Pacific Ocean, on Thursday was a Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds. Adrian was located about 440 miles south-southeast of Cabo Corrientes, Mexico and was moving west-northwest at about 9 mph on Thursday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). That movement was expected to keep the hurricane away from the coast of Mexico, and while it may strengthen somewhat through Friday, a gradual weakening was expected to begin thereafter, according to NHC.

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