Temperatures over the next three months will average below normal in the North Central and Northwest and parts of the Southeast, but will be warmer than normal across most of the Northeast and southern United States, according to WSI forecasters, who said a strong La Nina and the persistent negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation will drive much of the nation's winter weather pattern.

The South Central United States can expect a very mild winter, WSI said.

"In the eastern U.S. we expect aggregate seasonal temperatures closer to normal, with the best chances for cold occurring early and late in the winter. January appears to be the most likely month for any extended warmth across the eastern U.S.," said WSI Chief Meteorologist Todd Crawford. "However, the historically persistent negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation suggests that any mild spells may be short-lived this winter across the East.

"For the November-January and December-February periods as a whole we are forecasting 2,469 and 2,692 gas-weighted heating degree days, respectively, both within 1% of the 1971-2000 mean values. The November-January value is 3% larger than last year's value, while the December-February value is 3% less than last year's value."

The WSI forecast team expects temperatures to average warmer than normal in November everywhere except the Southeast and Northwest, which will be cooler than normal, and coastal California.

"Electric loads will be representative of shoulder-season temperatures and the outlook for warmer-than-normal temperatures will have less impact on load," Energy Security Analysis Inc. (ESAI) Director of Power and Gas Paul Flemming said in a statement issued in conjunction with WSI's outlook. "Planned generator maintenance will be high in early November in most markets and will decline towards the end of the month. Power prices will be more reflective of this planned maintenance than on weather factors. Warmer temperatures are likely to delay that start of the heating season for natural gas demand; however, increased gas demand due to planned coal and nuclear outages will provide some offset to weaker heating demand."

In December colder-than-normal temperatures will move into the Northeast and North Central areas, with warmer-than-normal temperatures taking over in the Southeast, WSI said.

"Early season cold weather can often generate concern over whether the winter as a whole will be abnormally cold, creating a potential for large drawdown on gas inventories," Flemming said. "This should be very bullish for natural gas prices as the heating season gets under way in strong fashion; however, any price increases are likely to be tempered by the large start of season inventory levels."

Warmer-than-normal temperatures will return to the Northeast in January, while the Southwest is expected to get its first taste of colder-than-normal winter weather, the forecasters said.

"Warmer weather in the Northeast is slightly bearish for natural gas demand from the heating and power sectors and this lower demand is likely to be offset by higher demand in the North Central region, which relies heavily on gas for heating," Flemming said. "Power prices in the Northeast markets are likely to be slightly bearish due to lower loads and also due to the expectation of lower gas basis spreads to the Henry Hub based upon the warmer weather outlook. Slightly warmer weather in the southern and Gulf states will not provide much offset to heating demand in the North."

WSI's seasonal outlook was generally in line with winter weather forecasts issued last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center and AccuWeather.com meteorologist Joe Bastardi (see NGI, Oct. 25). Bastardi is calling for a "nonwinter" from the interior Southwest to the Gulf Coast and the Carolinas, with above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation. NOAA also expects much of the South to be warmer and drier than average. Both forecasters say the conditions are likely to exacerbate drought conditions across the nation's southern tier.

WSI is scheduled to issue its next seasonal outlook on Nov. 23.

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