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Cold Snap Raises Gas Demand in Western States

The Western Governors' Association (WGA) website turned into a weather bulletin board last Friday, summarizing drought-relieving rains, records snows and abnormally cold temperatures along the West Coast and parts of Alaska, Nevada and Colorado.

In Oregon, where Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency, Portland-based NW Natural reported large-volume gas supply sendouts in the face of snows and cold that blanketed much of the state and led to power outages for 37,000 people in the greater Portland area.

While it stayed cold over the Martin Luther King Holiday weekend, reports were calling for a warming trend in Oregon starting Wednesday, a NW Natural spokesperson said on Tuesday. "Our system continued to perform well over the holiday weekend at around the same sendout rates," she said.

Last Thursday, amid temperatures between 16 and 36 degrees, NW Natural sent out 7.5 million therms to its 718,000 customers. For comparison, on the same date the last two winters, the maximum sendout was 5 million and 4.3 million therms, respectively, a utility spokesperson said.

"Our gas control department says our system is performing well and looks fine headed into the [King Holiday] weekend," the spokesperson said. "We work all year long to prepare for the cold weather season."

She noted that NW Natural can draw on extra resources from its underground gas storage facility at Mist, OR, and two separate liquefied natural gas storage facilities in Portland and Newport, OR, as well as through additional interstate supply purchases.

In the neighboring state of Washington, Puget Sound Energy in the west and Avista Utilities in the east had cold weather to deal with but the gas sendouts were more typical winter volumes than what Oregon was experiencing, according to their utility spokesperson.

In Colorado, Nevada and Northern California, some ski resorts closed down because of too much snow. In Colorado, a series of avalanches shut down parts of Interstate Highway 70. Heavy rains prompted evacuations in parts of northern Nevada and California, according to the WGA reports, which included the fact that Lake Tahoe's water level grew by a foot since the start of the new year, adding 33.6 billion gallons of water.

Over the weekend, Alaska was expecting a mass of arctic air that was predicted to drive down temperatures in some areas to 50 degrees below zero.

Last week in Northern California more than 20 inches of rain and 12 feet of snow fell, rendering nearly half the state to be free of drought for the first time since early 2013. Early in the season the Sierra snowpack, which provides a third of the state's water supply, was measured at 161% of normal.

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