Colder-than-normal weather will be seen across most of the northern United States through March, with warmer-than-normal temperatures spread across the rest of the country, WSI Corp. forecasters said.

Referencing a standard 30-year normal period (1971-2000), Andover, MA-based WSI said temperatures will average warmer-than-normal in the eastern United States in January and February, with colder-than-normal temperatures north and west of a line from Phoenix to Boston during January, February and March. A strong La Nina event -- cooling ocean surface temperatures off the western coast of South America that have been found to disrupt normal weather patterns in the United States -- controlled the prevailing weather pattern since late summer, with temperatures in the East becoming cooler in November and December, said WSI seasonal forecaster Todd Crawford.

"It appears that a transition back to milder conditions has recently occurred, which will likely result in warmer-than-normal temperatures for a good part of January and February in much of the East," Crawford said. "The bulk of the cold weather should now become centered from the Pacific Northwest into the north-central U.S. for the next couple of months as the East recovers from a very cold early December."

The WSI forecast for January indicates warmer-than-normal temperatures across the Northeast, Southeast (except Florida), North Central (except North Dakota), South Central and Southwest (except southern California) regions, with colder-than-normal temperatures in the Northwest (except Montana, Idaho and Wyoming).

Energy Security Analysis Inc. (ESAI) said early cold temperatures in December provided a slight offset to record-high natural gas inventories at the start of the heating season, but the warmer-than-normal outlook for January tempers the bullish impacts of the early season demand. Much warmer temperatures in the Gulf Coast and Southeast regions should also be slightly bearish for overall gas demand, ESAI said.

In February, WSI sees warmer-than-normal temperatures staying in place in the Northeast and Southeast, with colder-than-normal temperatures moving into all of the rest of the country except Arkansas and Louisiana. ESAI said increases in natural gas demand in central and western regions should be offset by much warmer temperatures in the East. With high inventories at the start of the heating season and generally warmer temperatures in January, the outlook for natural gas prices is neutral to slightly bearish in February, ESAI said.

By March, WSI forecast colder-than-normal temperatures across the entire country -- except New Mexico, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana -- with much colder-than-normal temperatures across the northern tier. A cold March will create above normal demand for natural gas and may offset lower than normal gas inventory withdrawals during January and February, ESAI said. However, inventories should be more than adequate to meet late-season high demand, due to the expectation of well above-normal inventories by the end of February. Cold weather in March will be supportive for gas prices but may not be overly bullish with the end of the heating season close at hand, ESAI said. Lower temperatures will drive electric loads higher than normal in most regions, but prices should be moderate due to the outlook for steady gas prices near current levels, according to ESAI.

The WSI forecast follows Weather Insight LP's recent prediction of seasonably cold winter temperatures in the Midwest and Northeast over the next few weeks and the possibility of another arctic cold snap by mid-to late January (see NGI, Dec. 24, 2007). WxRisk forecasters in November said the winter months would be mild but active, with above-normal temperatures across the deep South, Mid Atlantic and New England regions (see NGI, Nov. 26, 2007).

MDA EarthSat Energy Weather has predicted that temperatures through February will be warmer-than-normal across the country's southern tier, from Texas to the Southeast, with seasonal to below-normal temperatures across the northern tier, including the Pacific Northwest, Chicago and the Northeast (see NGI, Nov. 5, 2007). An extended winter weather forecast issued in October by chief long-range forecaster Joe Bastardi and his AccuWeather.com team called for a cooler-than-normal beginning and end to the winter, wrapped around three months of higher temperatures that could make it a warmer season than last year and one of the 10 warmest winters ever for the southeastern United States (see NGI, Oct. 29, 2007). Bastardi's winter forecast was generally in agreement with a prediction from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) calling for a relatively warm winter (see NGI, Oct. 22, 2007).

WSI is due to issue a new forecast package (for February-April) on Jan. 15.

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