Heat waves forecast, Calif. blackouts still loom

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US POWER-Heat waves forecast, Calif. blackouts still loom Updated 2:39 PM ET April 4, 2001 NEW YORK (Reuters) - The good news? California will be no hotter than usual this summer. Now the bad: Expect dry, hot spells for the Northwest and Southwest, which may exacerbate the energy crisis in California and elsewhere in the West.

U.S. meteorologists are forecasting a mixed bag of summer weather as California braces for the hot months ahead as the state's energy crisis festers.

Coastal areas from Southern California to Washington state should be no warmer than usual through July, giving a little reprieve as state officials work to stave off power blackouts.

But meteorologists are forecasting hotter-than-normal temperatures for much of the Rocky Mountain region, especially from Phoenix in the south through the desert highlands of Salt Lake City.

Coupled with scarce rainfall and low reservoir levels in the Northwest, that could strain California's creaking energy supply system, which on hot days can import 20 percent of its power needs from out of state, and even from Mexico.

"Essentially, it will be as tight as it ever was. I still see the potential for brown-outs and rolling blackouts," said James Rouiller, senior meteorologist with forecasting service weathermarkets.com.

"I am concerned that this will spread to the West. California is just a sign of things to come," he said.

Meteorologists said the Pacific Coast will benefit from cooler sea surface temperatures through July. But the Rocky Mountains and the inland areas of Oregon and Washington states would be above normal, with very dry conditions worsened by historically low reservoir and river levels.

"That may bleed into California. San Diego is a critical area and Southern California may be impacted by the heat in the Southwest," said Jeff Shorter, vice president of Weather Services International, which provides forecasts for the energy, aviation and media industries.

WSI forecasts that temperatures should dip lower in July across the West Coast.

Higher temperatures and dry conditions in the Northwest will exacerbate the drought for the area's big dams, experts said.

"They don't have the water supplies that drive these hydroelectric plants, especially if we got through a prolonged warmer-than-normal spell like we are anticipating." said Rouiller.

California may also benefit from the slowing economy as the electricity load slacks off a little, experts said, but not enough to offset the power shortages.

Ed Krapels, director of Gas and Power Services for the Energy Security Analysis Inc, said lower output from the Northwest will squeeze the state and may push California's basis prices up over the national price base of $5.

"Demand is going to lower," he said. "But there is no way to balance the California market without incurring some blackouts as demand goes up to its summer peaks. There just isn't enough juice."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), April 05, 2001

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