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Winter Storm Puts Pipes on Alert; Forecasters Say Coldest Nov.-Dec. in 10 Years-Plus

Just one week after a Thanksgiving winter blast upended some oil and natural gas production operations in Texas, winter storm Cleon made its debut in the Upper Plains on Tuesday and has begun to sweep through the Midcontinent, dropping temperatures in some areas as low as 25 degrees below zero.

In a storm summary advisory by the National Weather Service (NWS) Wednesday afternoon, forecasters said “moderate to heavy snow” was progressing across the Colorado Rockies and a strengthening low in the Mid-Mississippi Valley would continue to bring heavy snow and strong winds to the Upper Midwest.

Winter weather advisories were put into effect for the Southern/Central Rockies northeastward to the Upper Midwest. “They are also in effect for much of the northern tier of the Southern Plains and Lower Mississippi Valley and into the Lower Ohio Valley,” said NWS forecasters.

NWS also noted that a surface low was moving toward the Northeast, and a cold front attached to it was stretched across the Midcontinent and Plains. The surface low, which was in southeastern Minnesota Wednesday afternoon, was expected to intensify and move quickly into Southeast Canada by Thursday carrying heavy snow, gusty winds and dangerous wind chills.

In the Northeast, a mixture of wintry precipitation was forecast to move into Ohio and parts of northwestern Pennsylvania, stretching into Upstate New York by Friday.

El Paso Natural Gas Co. (EPNG), which runs from West Texas across New Mexico and Arizona to the border of southern California, said it was preparing for the Arctic blast. In a critical notice updated Wednesday, the pipeline said it was "working to increase linepack in advance of the forecasted weather expected to move into our service area Wednesday into Thursday. Below-average temperatures are expected through the weekend and into the first half of next week and as such the potential for supply shortfalls due to freeze-offs exists."

EPNG encouraged delivery point operators to review their scheduled supplies to ensure they were aligned with their flowing quantities. Supply operators also were encouraged to maintain their deliveries into the system at their scheduled rates.

"Underperformance caps will be placed on nonperforming supplies," EPNG said. "Imbalance payback off the system, such as make-up delivery transactions, may be limited or denied due to operational concerns related to maintaining adequate linepack."

Northern Natural Gas revised its critical notices a few times, indicating Tuesday that there would be a system overrun limitation (SOL) for all market area zones (ABC, D and EF) with 0% system management service available for Thursday's gas day "due to lower-than-normal system-weighted temperatures." It then issued another SOL for Friday's gas day with the same parameters. The affected zones cover portions of Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Customers were advised to monitor the pipeline bulletin board for updates.

Natural Gas Pipeline Co. revised a force majeure originally posted Nov. 22 and extended it through Dec. 22. The force majeure had been related to an anomaly remediation on the Amarillo, TX, mainline.

In the notice, Natural said effective on Friday’s gas day it “will schedule primary firm and secondary in-path firm transports to 50% of contract MDQ [maximum daily quantity] through Compressor Station 104. Actual nomination levels and changes in pipeline conditions could result in changes to the percentage scheduled (lower or higher) on subsequent gas days.

Several East Coast pipelines also began issuing critical notices ahead of the storm, including Tennessee Gas Pipeline, Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. (Transco), Texas Eastern Transmission Pipeline (Tetco) and Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC. While some were issued because of nominations exceeding capacity, some also were related to scheduled maintenance. In Canada, TransCanada Corp. issued notices of capacity constraint across its NGTL system in Alberta through Thursday. The Mainline gas pipeline appeared not to be affected.

Last week's storm already had taken a bite out of production for some of the biggest operators in the Permian Basin, including Pioneer Natural Resources Co. (see Daily GPI, Dec. 2). Energen Corp. also indicated that last week's storm will cut into its fourth quarter output.

Cleon looks like it will have a far bigger effect on the country -- and in some of the biggest production areas of North America.

"Winter storm Cleon will be a long-lasting event that will impact much of the nation through the week," said Wunderground.com winter weather expert Tom Niziol and meteorologist Tom Moore. "The main story will be another reinforcing bout of very cold air that moves from the northern Plains all the way south to Texas through the week.

"Parts of the northern Plains and Upper Midwest will be heavily impacted by a combination of significant snow, wind and bitter cold. There is a threat for significant icing late Thursday/Friday from northern Texas through Arkansas and western Tennessee to Kentucky and the Ohio Valley."

Sharply colder winter weather also was set to arrive on Thursday for southeast New Mexico and most of West Texas, home to the Permian Basin. Highs in the 70s on Wednesday were expected to fall into the 20s and 30s east of the Pecos River, with the colder air moving deeper into the state by Friday.

“Temperatures will become cold enough Thursday morning for a mix of freezing rain and sleet from the southeast New Mexico Plains...eastward across the Permian Basin,” NWS forecasters said. “The greatest sleet and snow accumulations will be the northern Permian Basin and western Low Rolling Plains.”

Weather 2000 meteorologists on Wednesday said their forecasted model underestimated the amount of Arctic air now pouring into portions of the natural gas-weighted central United States.

"Regardless of model/vendor vagaries, the U.S.A. will in fact experience the coldest November-December in over a decade," Weather 2000's team said. The "Ensco Modoki" and Indian Ocean Di-Pole will "spur even more winter surprises..."

The early arrival of winter weather is reminiscent of 2002, said the Weather 2000 team. "Wintry results in November provide harbingers and a road map to December."

In the Northeast, New York City registered six days with maximum temperatures below 40, the most since 1903's November. Mobile, AL, in the Southeast, was freezing for five days, the most such November freezing days since 1991.

In the North-Central part of the country, Chicago, Des Moines and Omaha registered the most November heating degree days since 2002. The South-Central portion of the United States found Dallas remaining below 40 for 60 consecutive hours -- the longest stretch since 1976.

"Keep in mind that we're objectively amidst a chilly and impactful population-weighted five-week stretch across the U.S.A.," said Weather 2000 forecasters. "This is the same period that was filled with erratic model depictions and for which vendor/analog outlooks had called for abundant warmth [blatant negative skill scores]."

However, enough Polar/Arctic air "was leaked from Canada into the U.S.A. to yield some record-setting cold days, as well as noteworthy snow and ice events. But it was also doled-out nicely, saving a lot more cold air stores for later in December as well [unlike in 2012]."

A Genscape Inc. analyst told NGI on Wednesday that the industry's last big well freeze-off event occurred in February 2011, which included a blizzard in Chicago and power blackouts in Texas and New Mexico (see Daily GPI, Feb. 9, 2011).

"It does not look like a similar set up this time around,” said Genscape publications director Stephen J. Maestranzi. “We don't have the massive snow storm set up (yet), and it is very warm ahead of this incoming cold blast. While it's going to get very cold briefly, it's transient. Freeze-out risk areas are typically southern areas since the Bakken and Marcellus have to be hardened against the cold anyway."

Wunderground.com offered a state-by-state forecast and said among the big energy producing states, Colorado was to see snow accumulated in "almost every part of the state," with some mountainous areas receiving up to 30 inches.

In North And South Dakota, temperatures were expected to drop to 25 below zero Friday and Saturday in some areas. Snow was falling across Wyoming, dropping temperatures by 50 degrees or more in some spots, with wind chills forecast to fall as low as 30 below. Blowing snow already had closed a stretch of Interstate 90 between Sheridan and Buffalo, WY.

Snow was expected to accumulate in south-central portions of Oklahoma beginning Thursday, north of Lawton but south of Norman. South of that area into Texas, ice was said to be the main concern.

"As cold air works its way south and east through the Plains to the Ohio Valley it will be overrun by warmer air from the south," said Wunderground.com's team. "This combination will likely produce a swath of sleet and freezing rain from Central Texas through Arkansas to Ohio in the Thursday through Friday timeframe.

"We are still a way out on trying to time the exact location and amount of icing that could develop but icing could be significant leading to major travel delays and even power outages. Looks like sleet/snow for Oklahoma City/Tulsa Thursday and these conditions should move toward St. Louis/Indianapolis and Columbus by late Thursday night/Friday. Cities that should be on the alert for icing include Dallas, Little Rock and Memphis from late Thursday night through Friday.

And it appears that a White Christmas is looking more likely.

"Another round of wintry precipitation will develop later this weekend into early next week," according to Wunderground.com. "Sleet and freezing rain from Arkansas up through the Ohio Valley to the Mid Atlantic is possible Sunday, while a wintry mess could be in store from Pennsylvania to New York and New England (snow changing to sleet and freezing rain and possibly rain  by Monday). This event could have a separate name."

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