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Forecast: East to Remain Frosty Through April

The eastern two-thirds of the United States will continue to be dominated by colder-than-normal temperatures through April, while the West can look forward to warmer weather, according to the latest seasonal forecast from Andover, MA-based WSI Corp.

WSI is forecasting 1,863 gas-weighted heating degree days for February-April, approximately 8% more than same three-month period last year and about 2% more than the 1971-2000 average.

"After a brief respite from the bitter cold in late January, this rather extreme winter appears to be gearing up for an encore in February," said WSI seasonal forecaster Todd Crawford. "All of the important weather and climate factors that we monitor suggest winter will be coming back with a vengeance in February. This transition back to colder temperatures is already showing up in two-week forecasts from our computer models, lending more confidence to the colder forecast trend."

WSI's February forecast calls for colder-than-normal temperatures to be in place across the entire country, with significantly colder temperatures expected in the North Central, Rockies and Southeast regions. That widespread chill will result in strong natural gas demand, particularly from the North Central states, according to Paul Flemming, Energy Security Analysis Inc. (ESAI) director of power and gas.

"Delivered gas prices in the constrained areas of the Northeast markets should see more volatility with cooler temperatures," Flemming said in a statement issued in conjunction with WSI's outlook. "Given the strong gas demand expectations, we expect to see some significant inventory draws in February. Electric loads will be at the high end of expectations and power prices will be impacted by higher delivered gas prices in the eastern markets."

By March warmer-than-normal temperatures will have taken over across the West, while colder-than-normal temperatures will remain in place east of the Mississippi, WSI said.

"Natural gas demand is likely to be slightly above-average as lower demand in the warmer western regions offsets strong demand in the east," Flemming said. "Power prices in the east will continue to be responsive to delivered gas prices, but lower loads in March will moderate prices." Nuclear outages associated with the maintenance season will add to late season gas demand, Flemming said.

Warmer-than-normal temperatures will move into the North Central states but the East will remain colder than normal in April, according to WSI's forecast. Gas demand is expected to be moderate as the heating season draws to a close, Flemming said.

"Cooler temperatures in the Northeast will be slightly bullish for electric loads, but generator maintenance schedules will play a more bullish role in power markets than changes in weather patterns," he said.

The WSI seasonal outlooks reference a standard 30-year norm (1971-2000). The next WSI forecast, for March-May, is scheduled to be issued Feb. 23. Chief Long Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi has said this may turn out to be the worst winter in 25 years (see NGI, Jan. 11). Typically, when below-normal cold periods arrive in winter they are limited to one region, but this winter the colder air is stretching over larger portions of the country, Bastardi said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Bastardi have each said colder weather will dominate portions of the East through February (see NGI, Oct. 19, 2009). In a contrary forecast, has said it expects the Midwest -- not the East -- to experience the coldest temperatures relative to normal this winter (see NGI, Nov. 2, 2009).

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