By TIM HEARDEN
SACRAMENTO -- It stayed hot in interior California throughout July, as afternoon temperatures in some areas averaged in triple digits for the month.
And after a brief respite this weekend, August promises more of the same hotter-than-normal summer days.
The federal Climate Prediction Center envisions above-normal temperatures to linger throughout the West over the next three months, portending balmy to downright hot conditions during the harvest season for many crops.
"Maybe by midweek next week we might warm up a bit," said National Weather Service forecaster Holly Osborne, noting a low-pressure trough off the coast is keeping the Central Valley unseasonably cool this weekend.
The cool break comes after some towns, including Redding, Red Bluff and Fresno, averaged above 100 degrees in July, according to the weather service. Redding saw 20 afternoons in triple digits, peaking at 111 degrees on July 20, and Fresno's 24 days of triple-digit heat included 15 straight days to start the month.
The heat accelerated development of many crops. For instance, the picking of figs began last week at Bob Steinacher's Maywood Farms in Corning, Calif., about three weeks ahead of schedule.
"We're ramping up really fast," Steinacher said. "Usually we start slowly and come up over about a three-week period, but we're already ahead of time."
The warm spring and summer weather encouraged almonds to develop early, and farmers started harvesting last week in the southern San Joaquin Valley, the California Farm Bureau Federation reported. Growers in Kern County started shaking almonds off the trees about 10 days earlier than usual, according to the Farm Bureau.
And growers in California's wine country are experiencing one of the earliest harvests in recent memory. If the heat continues as expected, it could mean fruit-intensive wines from an abundant crop reminiscent of 1997, a year that produced a highly regarded vintage.
"We're a full month ahead of 2009, '10 and ' 11," said Jon Ruel, chief operating officer of Trefenthen Vineyards and president of the Napa Valley Winegrowers.
Among other crops, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service office here:
* Cotton progressed well because of high temperatures, as virtually the entire crop had squared and over three-quarters had set bolls by the end of last week. The crop condition is rated 90 percent good to excellent.
* Growers have continued to irrigate fruit trees and vines to reduce heat stress. The harvests of summer fruits and vegetables proceed, including pears, freestone peaches, nectarines, fresh-market plums, grapefruit, lemons and valencia oranges.
* Rice continued to progress through the boot stage last week and almost a quarter of the crop was headed. The rice crop conditions are rated 92 percent good to excellent.
The news wasn't all good for producers, however. The heat and lack of precipitation is continuing to cause range land and non-irrigated pasture land to deteriorate, as upper-elevation watering holes continued to dry out last week while those at the lower elevations have already dried, according to NASS.
Sheep and cattle are grazing on idle fields, dryland grain and alfalfa fields, and supplemental feeding of livestock continues, the agency reports. Range conditions aren't likely to improve. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook calls for dry conditions to persist throughout California and in much of the southwestern United States through the end of October.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Here are the average high temperatures in July and their comparisons to last year for selected California cities, according to the National Weather Service:
Redding: July 2013, 102.2 degrees; July 2012, 97.2 degrees
Sacramento: 2013, 93.4 degrees; 2012, 91.2 degrees
Stockton: 2013, 94.6 degrees; 2012, 92.6 degrees
Modesto: 2013, 96.6 degrees; 2012, 94 degrees
Salinas: 2013, 70.5 degrees; 2012, 69.6 degrees
Fresno: 2013, 102.7 degrees; 2012, 98.7 degrees