Colder-than-normal temperatures will dominate much of the northern United States and warmer-than-normal temperatures will be seen elsewhere through April, WSI Corp. forecasters said last Tuesday.

Referencing a standard 30-year normal period (1971-2000), Andover, MA-based WSI said temperatures in the Northeast will be above normal in February and below normal in March and April. An ongoing La Nina event -- the cooling of ocean surface temperatures off the west coast of South America -- will continue to affect North American weather patterns, according to WSI seasonal forecaster Todd Crawford.

"The impacts of the ongoing La Nina event will continue to result in plenty of arctic air in Canada and the western and central U.S. in February," Crawford said. "In the East, the current cold spell should wane during at least the first half of February, allowing for a return to above-normal temperatures. The above-normal temperatures won't last particularly long in the Northeast; however, as we expect both March and April to be cooler than normal."

The WSI forecast for February indicates warmer-than-normal temperatures in the East (except Florida) and colder-than-normal weather across the rest of the country (except Arkansas and Louisiana), particularly in the Midwest and Northern regions.

Energy Security Analysis Inc. (ESAI) said increases in natural gas demand in central and western regions should be offset by mild temperatures in the East. With above-average inventories and generally warmer temperatures expected for February, the outlook for natural gas prices is neutral, according to ESAI.

In March WSI sees warmer-than-normal weather continuing in the Southeast and moving into the South Central region, with colder-than-normal weather throughput the rest of the country (except New Mexico), especially across the northern tier. That cooling trend will create above-normal demand for natural gas and may offset lower-than-normal gas inventory withdrawals during January and February, and inventories should end the season with supplies that are well above average, according to ESAI. 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. 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, ESAI said. Prices will also be influenced in many regions by the start of the maintenance season and nuclear refueling outages.

Warmer-than-normal temperatures will spread across the Southeast and Central United States in April, with colder-than-normal weather in place in the Northeast and western regions (except New Mexico), WSI said. According to ESAI, lower demand and diminished impact on supply and market price will lead to slightly lower natural gas demand during the last two to three weeks of the heating season. In April, electric loads will reflect shoulder season demand and prices will be influenced less by temperature fluctuations than by planned maintenance schedules, ESAI said.

WSI said an update to the current forecast will be issued Thursday (Jan. 31), with the next new forecast package (for March-May) to be issued Feb. 19.

©Copyright 2008 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.