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Forecasters See Colder-Than-Normal Months Ahead

A pair of recent winter weather forecasts -- from AccuWeather.com and Andover, MA-based WSI Corp. -- paint a picture of colder-than-normal months ahead for much of the country, especially the heavily populated Northeast.

A massive cold wave forecast for this week for the Northeast and areas as far south as Atlanta could continue to drive the prices of home heating fuels higher, according to AccuWeather.com.

A weather pattern around Greenland is driving a cold snap that could settle over much of the eastern United States and portions of Europe for several weeks, AccuWeather.com meteorologist Jim Andrews said Wednesday.

"A major arctic wave is set to hit the country now and could last into February," Andrews said. he added that major U.S. cities will be affected, causing millions to heat their homes more and for longer periods this winter season.

In its winter outlook, WSI Corp. said almost all of the country can expect temperatures to average cooler than normal from January to March. WSI is forecasting 2,475 gas-weighted heating degree days during the three-month period, approximately 2.5% more than January-March 2009 and about 2% more than the 1971-2000 average. For the month of January, however, warmer-than-normal temperatures should prevail in the Northwest and the Northeast except Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The rest of the country will remain cooler than normal.

"The combination of the current El Nino event, cold north Pacific and weakened stratospheric vortex are favorable for a continuation of widespread below-normal temperatures across the U.S. for the upcoming season," said WSI seasonal forecaster Todd Crawford. "There may be a relaxation of the current cold pattern in the Northeast during January, followed by a return to more consistent cold in February and March."

In a statement issued in conjunction with WSI's outlook, Paul Flemming, Energy Security Analysis Inc. (ESAI) director of power and gas, said lower gas demand across the warmer northern regions in January will moderate the demand effects of cooler temperatures in much of the rest of the country.

"Warmer-than-normal temperatures in the Northeast will marginally lower electrical loads and associated gas demand for heating," Flemming said. "Delivered gas prices in the constrained areas of the Northeast markets should see less volatility with warmer temperature expectations."

By February colder-than-normal temperatures will be in place across the entire country, with the exception of Washington, WSI said.

"Natural gas demand is likely to be very strong with high residential and commercial heating demand as well as increased demand from the power sector," Flemming said. "Natural gas inventories are likely to see significant draws in February under this cold weather outlook. Residual fuel oil prices continue to be high relative to gas, although under severe cold conditions delivered gas prices could spike above fuel oil prices in some areas, particularly in the Northeast. In the West, much-colder-than-normal temperatures will increase the bullish outlook for gas in February."

While colder-than-normal temperatures will continue to dominate the East in March, the rest of the country can expect warmer-than-normal weather, according to the WSI forecast.

"Colder weather in March will be bullish for power prices in the Northeast, especially in areas that start spring generator maintenance early in the season," Flemming said.

The WSI seasonal outlooks reference a standard 30-year norm (1971-2000). The next WSI forecast, for February-May, is scheduled to be issued Jan. 26.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and AccuWeather.com Chief Long Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi (see NGI, Oct. 19) have each said colder weather will dominate portions of the East through February, and each said the nation's winter weather will be significantly affected by El Nino. But NOAA said it expected the current El Nino -- the warming of surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean -- to strengthen and persist through the winter, while Bastardi said El Nino will fade over the same period.

Turning its back on "group think" winter weather forecasts, WxRisk.com has said it expects the Midwest -- not the East -- to experience the coldest temperatures relative to normal this winter (see NGI, Nov. 2).

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