The El Nino event that has been helping to dull the worst of the U.S. winter weather won't dissipate for several more months, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center (CPC), potentially bad news for anyone hoping for higher natural gas prices.
"Our forecast this month is similar to last month, with the expectation that the current El Nino will remain strong through the rest of the winter, gradually weakening during the spring before transitioning to ENSO-neutral conditions during the late spring or early summer," CPC Deputy Director Mike Halpert said Thursday.
The CPC's outlook for January, February and March calls for temperatures to average below normal in the Southeast and southern plains, with above-normal temperatures expected across the northern tier, portions of the West and Alaska.
The current El Nino event -- warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean near the equator -- arrived earlier this year, and has strengthened over time (see Daily GPI, Dec. 10, 2015; March 6, 2015).
Weather conditions, including El Nino and the Arctic Oscillation, helped keep the Northeast relatively warm in December and, despite a current chill dominating the region, are expected to do the same in coming weeks, Halpert said.
"Going forward though, to be honest, I'm expecting that after the next week or two the potential certainly exists...for a return to the mild conditions, or at least the more normal conditions in the Northeast...January, the way it's shaping up, could be more normal for winter, certainly not in the extreme at this point."
NOAA scientists have said El Nino was the leading climate factor influencing the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season, which ended Nov. 30 after a below-normal 11 named storms, four of which became hurricanes, two of them major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher). But on Thursday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) named the first hurricane of 2016, months ahead of the official June 1 start of Atlantic hurricane season. Hurricane Alex is the first hurricane to form in the Atlantic in January since 1938.
The storm, which was about 590 miles south of the Azores Thursday morning, had 85 mph sustained winds and was moving north-northeast at 20 mph. It was expected to turn to the north over the next day or two and was not expected to approach North America, NHC said.