The summer of 2010 is likely to be warmer than normal for much of the country, with average temperatures nationwide much warmer than the summer of 2009, according to separate forecasts issued last week by AccuWeather.com Chief Long Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi and Andover, MA-based WSI Corp. And the consensus forecast for the hurricane season is pointing increasingly towards an unusually active season, with WSI and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center each increasing the number of tropical storms they expect to form in the Atlantic.
"The warmest of the summer months relative to averages for the nation should be August, and our forecast is for overall warmth to last into September," according to Bastardi, who said he expects to see temperatures several degrees above normal summer averages in the Northeast and in an area stretching from Colorado to West Texas and into the Southwest. The West Coast, extreme northern Plains and the northern half of the Mississippi Valley should remain relatively cool, though not as cool as last summer, he said.
WSI said it expects the next three months to average warmer than normal across most of the United States, with the exception of parts of the central and northern Plains and Great Lakes states, thanks in large part to a collapsing El Nino pattern in the Pacific.
"By July and August, we expect the heat to become established across the northern U.S, first in the Pacific Northwest in July and then spreading across the Northeast by August...while we do expect a warm summer on the whole across the U.S., we don't expect the magnitude of the heat to be especially notable, especially early in the summer," Crawford said.
"For the June-August period as a whole, we are forecasting 874 population-weighted cooling degree days, 4-5% more than last year and about 6% more than the 1971-2000 mean."
The WSI forecast for June calls for cooler-than-normal temperatures across most of the western and central United States, with warmer-than-normal temperatures in the Northeast and much-warmer-than-normal temperatures in the Southeast.
"Gas demand for cooling will likely be lower than normal in most of the country, but offset slightly by warmer temperatures in the Southeast and Northeast," Energy Security Analysis Inc. (ESAI) director of power and gas Paul Flemming said in a statement issued in conjunction with WSI's outlook. "Early season heat events are less likely in the western markets."
In July WSI sees a relative cooling trend moving into the Northeast and near-normal temperatures in the North Central area, with warmer-than-normal temperatures dominating all of the rest of the country. By August warmer-than-normal temperatures are forecast for all of the country except the Southeast and South Central regions, which are expected to be cooler than normal, WSI said. Gas demand for cooling during the month should be weaker in the Gulf Coast regions but could be offset by higher demand in the Northeast, according to Flemming.
"Power prices in the Northeast markets could be volatile in August given the warmer-than-normal temperature projections," Flemming said.
The Atlantic hurricane season, which begins Tuesday (June 1) is expected to be "active to extremely active," with 14-23 named storms, including eight to 14 hurricanes, three to seven of them intense (Category Three or greater), according to an outlook issued Thursday by the Climate Prediction Center.
"If this outlook holds true, this season could be one of the more active on record," said NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco.
While stressing that it does not make official hurricane landfall predictions, NOAA said the probability of multiple hurricane strikes in the United States and in the region around the Caribbean increases sharply with exceptionally active seasons. All above-normal hurricane seasons in the past have produced at least one named storm in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and 95% of those seasons have produced at least two named storms in the GOM, NOAA said.
However, for the natural gas industry, the significance of GOM production in the U.S. supply picture is not what it once was. With the development of new shale drilling technology unlocking onshore reserves around the country, a hurricane cutting off Gulf supply is not as critical since increased onshore supplies and high storage levels would mitigate any losses from Gulf production.
"Depending upon the estimates you believe, the newly developed technologies to find and produce shale gas promise a source of domestic supply that could easily satisfy at least 100 years of our present demand," Alcoa Inc.'s David Ciarlone told a GasMart 2010 audience in Chicago in mid-May (see NGI, May 24).
Like other forecasters that have predicted more hurricanes this year, NOAA said a weakening El Nino in the eastern Pacific and above-average sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic will be the primary drivers behind the increased tropical storm activity. Hurricane activity in the Atlantic may be further driven by the development of El Nino's doppelganger, a La Nina event -- the cooling of ocean surface temperatures off the western coast of South America -- according to Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.
"The main uncertainty in this outlook is how much above normal the season will be. Whether or not we approach the high end of the predicted ranges depends partly on whether or not La Nina develops this summer. At present we are in a neutral state, but conditions are becoming increasingly favorable for La Nina to develop," Bell said.
WSI is calling for 18 named storms, including 10 hurricanes, five of them intense, in a hurricane season that it said will be "hyperactive," with a magnified threat to the Northeast United States.
"At this time, there is no strong argument to rebut the bold assertion that this season will at least approach the record 2005 levels of activity," according to WSI seasonal forecaster Todd Crawford.
A total of 26 named storms, including 14 hurricanes and seven intense hurricanes, among them hurricanes Katrina and Rita, wreaked havoc on the oil and natural gas industry, onshore and in the GOM, during the 2005 season (see NGI, Dec. 12, 2005). That was well above the 1950-2009 average of 10 named storms, six hurricanes and three intense hurricanes. Nine named storms formed during 2009, including three hurricanes, two of them intense.
The primary drivers for tropical activity have reversed course since last year and "everything is in place for an incredibly active season," Crawford said. "The El Nino event has vanished completely, resulting in a decrease in western tropical Pacific convection and a concomitant decrease in the vertical wind shear that typically acts as a detriment to tropical Atlantic development. More importantly, however, eastern and central tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures are currently at record warm levels for May, even warmer than the freakishly active season of 2005."
The coastal United States from North Carolina's Outer Banks north to Maine is twice as likely as normal to be hit by a hurricane this year, according to the WSI forecast.
"Our model suggests that the threat to the Northeast coast this season is on par with that in Florida and the Gulf coastal states," Crawford said.
It was the second time WSI has increased its 2010 forecast. In a preliminary forecast issued in January WSI called for 13 named storms, including seven hurricanes, with three of them intense, would form this year (see NGI, Feb. 1). Last month WSI increased its forecast to include 16 named storms, including nine hurricanes, five of them intense (see NGI, April 26).
Bastardi has said rapid GOM warming and the collapsing El Nino pattern could create 16-18 named storms during the Atlantic hurricane season, which would make 2010 one of the most active seasons on record (see NGI, May 24). Bastardi's forecast team expects one or two tropical storms to form by early July and a total of at least six storms to impact the U.S. coastline before the season ends Nov. 30.
It is not certain how a GOM hurricane would affect the oil spill caused by the explosion and sinking of drilling rig Deepwater Horizon (see related story) and cleanup efforts along the coast, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate.
"I don't think the oil is going to come ashore in a hurricane like it's coming ashore now," Fugate said. "That's a question we're asking the scientific community -- what would it come ashore as? How would it look and would there have to be any different response? -- and until we have that, we're basing it upon the fact that we've had to do cleanup in the past of chemical spills, oil spills, tank farms and other petroleum products...[but] you're not booming it or doing a lot of other stuff ahead of a hurricane."
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