The northeastern United States can expect temperatures to average colder than normal in December and warmer than normal in January and February, while the rest of the northern tier will be dominated by colder-than-normal temperatures throughout the winter months, according to forecasters at Andover, MA-based WSI Corp.

"The strong La Nina event combined with the persistent negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation should result in a cold winter across most of the northern half of the U.S. this winter, especially across the northern Rockies and the north-central states," said WSI Chief Meteorologist Todd Crawford. "A very mild winter is likely in South Central states, where 13 of the last 14 moderate/strong La Nina events have been warm." Mild spells in the East may be short-lived, Crawford said.

"For the December-February period as a whole we are forecasting 2,474 gas-weighted heating degree days, within 1% of the 1971-2000 mean values and 4% less than last year. The most drastic difference from last year is electric-weighted heating degree days, where we expect a 10% year-over-year reduction."

The WSI forecasting team expects colder-than-normal temperatures to be in place over the northern tier of the country in December, with warmer-than-normal temperatures expected to dominate the rest of the country, except Florida and coastal California.

"Increased gas demand from the north, particularly the Midwest and Northeast, will only be partially offset by lower demand in the South," Energy Securities Analysis Inc.'s senior analyst Chris Kostas said in a statement issued in conjunction with WSI's outlook. "As a result, gas demand in December will likely be higher than normal. Delivered gas prices in the Northeast and Midwest shouldn't be as volatile as previous cold Decembers, however, due to high inventories and strong production."

January will bring warmer-than-normal temperatures to the Northeast, while temperatures will average colder than normal in the Southwest, according to the WSI forecasters.

"With reduced heating demand in much of the producing and consuming regions, full storage levels to start the season and expected high natural gas production, gas prices are likely to be weak in January," Kostas said. "Some of the reduced gas demand, however, will be offset by the colder-than-normal temperatures in the Northwest and Midwest. Power and gas prices will likely be soft from the Mid-Atlantic region through New England as gas basis and electrical loads remain low on mild temperatures."

WSI's February temperature forecast is largely unchanged from January, with warmer-than-normal temperatures expected in the East and South Central areas, and colder-than-normal temperatures forecast across the rest of the United States.

"With two straight months of warmer-than-normal temperatures and lower heating demand in the major demand centers of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, supplies are expected to be plentiful and gas prices subdued in February," Kostas said. "The colder regions in February are not expected to provide enough heating demand to offset the decrease from the warmer regions. With record inventories to start the heating season, and two straight months of lower-than-normal aggregate weather related demand, inventory levels are expected to be high and gas prices subdued heading into March."

Recent behavior of the North Atlantic Oscillation and the resemblance of current and recent atmospheric and oceanic patterns to those from the 1950s-1970s reinforce WSI's hypothesis that a fundamental climate shift in 2008 will result in weather patterns similar to those of 40-60 years ago, the forecaster said.

Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released a December-February temperature outlook with equal chances of normal, above-normal or below-normal temperatures for the Northeast (see NGI, Nov. 22). The continuing La Nina event in the equatorial Pacific Ocean will bring above-normal temperatures to a huge area stretching from the Rocky Mountains to the Mid-Atlantic over the next three months, NOAA said.

AccuWeather.com meteorologist Joe Bastardi has predicted an early winter for the Northeast and harsh cold and snow across the nation's northern tier (see NGI, Oct. 25). Temperatures in the East are expected to be near or below normal during most of December, and portions of New England and the upper Midwest will endure several cold waves with larger-than-normal temperature swings as winter progresses, Bastardi said.

WSI is scheduled to issue its next seasonal outlook on Dec. 21.

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