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Unseasonably Warm Temperatures Take Focus Off Gas Supply -- Temporarily

Despite the official start of the winter season on Dec. 21, temperatures for a majority of the United States have been anything but winter-like so far, easing the perceived pressure on the natural gas supply/demand balance. As a result, natural gas futures prices through Tuesday had fallen $4.758 from the January contract's all-time high of $15.780 on Dec. 13, which might just help consumers a little with their winter utility bills down the road.

Due to a shift in the jet stream, the arctic has been sealed off and frigid cold will remain far to the north in the near term, which is a departure from the first half of December, when below normal temperatures dominated a number of large gas-consuming regions.

"In less than 10 days time, the weather has gone from being very cold to unusually mild," said AccuWeather.com expert senior meteorologist John Kocet on Wednesday. "In addition, the dry pattern that existed in the Northwest is no more; a parade of powerful Pacific storms has seen to that. In a nutshell, the shift of the Pacific storm track has been the catalyst of the major pattern change. It is having a huge impact on the weather, not only on the West Coast, but also across most of North America."

The meteorologist noted that the arctic air masses that were plunging southward earlier in the month cannot do that anymore, allowing mild air to rule from coast to coast. Kocet added that in some areas, like Texas, the warmth has been exceptional with highs in the 70s and 80s Monday and Tuesday. The warming trend has also laid waste to the snow cover that was established from the Plains to the Northeast the first three weeks of December.

The Northeast has experienced the largest weather reprieve, as storms that would normally dump snow this time of year are only producing rain. "From Wednesday through Friday, a storm will move from the Midwest to the New England coast," Kocet said. "That is the perfect path for snow this time of year, but it won't happen. Arctic air has been pushed back into Canada, and there is no way for the storm to tap it. So this system is going to bring mainly rain except perhaps for far northern New England."

He noted that in essence, winter been "on hold" for several days now. "The only location experiencing the rigors of winter has been northern Maine where there has been 30 inches of snow since Saturday. In order for cold weather to become widespread again, here is what has to happen. First, the Pacific storm track must shift north toward Alaska. In turn, the jet stream would develop big undulations that would allow arctic air to spread southward. For those who despise the cold, rest assured that nothing this dramatic will happen for the rest of the year. Next week? Well, that is a different story."

The meteorologist said this break in temperatures can't last. "To those of you who enjoy the cold and the snow, I have every confidence it will be back, if not next week then the week after that. It is only a matter of time," Kocet said.

In the National Weather Service's latest six-to-10 day outlook, the government agency said it expects the vast majority of the United States to be warmer than normal for Jan. 3-7. During this period, the tip of New England and the Southeast will experience normal temperatures for this time of year with the exception of the Florida Peninsula, which will see below normal readings.

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