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Winter Cold to Impact East This Week as Jet Stream Dips

Winter looks like it will finally make its debut in earnest this week, more than a month after the season's official start date. With cold temperatures expected to blanket much of the country, the potential impact on the natural gas industry has people wondering how long the cold will stay and just how cold it will be.

MDA EarthSat Energy Weather said last week the eastern U.S. could be in for its second cold pattern of the 2005-2006 heating season. The company, which produces forecasts of special interest for the majority of traders, analysts and meteorologists involved with energy markets, said its latest 30/60-day outlook calls for cold to penetrate the East starting this week.

"In the past two days, the medium-range models have strengthened the cold threat that will commence [this] week and nearly all indications continue this pattern through mid-month," said Matt Rogers, deputy director and meteorologist for MDA EarthSat Energy Weather. The company said it believes the evolving pattern should allow the chill to be prolonged even more and last into the second half of February as well.

Comparing this coming cold burst with the one experienced over the first half of December, Rogers said, "In terms of comparison, the December cold should be a close benchmark to this month -- much closer than the super-warm January." He pointed out that December 2005 ended up three to five degrees Fahrenheit below normal across the Midwest and two to three degrees below normal for the East Coast, but the first half of the month recorded severe cold periods in these key energy-consuming areas.

MDA EarthSat Weather said March 2006 should still see some chill lingering across the Northeast and seasonal to warm conditions in the Midwest.

AccuWeather.com said that while it's hard to believe that the mild weather has held on so long, a pool of cold air will slide southward this week, thanks to a dip in the jet stream. "With much of the country above normal the past six weeks, even if the temperatures only drop to near normal, the change will be noticeable," the forecasting firm said. "February often brings the crown of winter storms, not to mention some pretty nasty cold waves. This time of year the storm track is worked into a feverish pitch by the warming that is going on at southern latitudes."

This greater amount of heat energy from the sun clashes with intensely cold air at mid-latitudes to produce some of the most intense storms of the year, AccuWeather.com said. These "powerhouse systems" first show up along the West Coast, producing high winds and torrents of rain. Upon reaching the Central states and East, these storms often turn into big snow producers and sometimes a full-fledged blizzard. "After the warmest January on record, it will be interesting to see what this February will bring," the forecasting firm said.

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