Natural gas price bulls who were hanging their hats on winter cold to turn prices around might want to invest in a hat rack instead as MDA EarthSat Weather reported in a Nov. 1 update that much of the country will be warmer than first expected for the months of December through February. The outlook for March, however, did trend slightly cooler overall.

According to the Rockville, MD-based private forecaster, changes from the earlier forecast revealed a trend in the warmer direction, primarily over the Plains and the Midwest for December-February. The East displayed warmer-than-normal conditions, while the Southeast, Gulf Coast, Deep South and southern Plains revealed the warmest anomalies for the December-February period.

Putting the upcoming heating season -- December through February -- in perspective, MDA EarthSat Weather is forecasting the Lower 48 states to experience noticeably warmer weather in 2010-11 compared to 2009-10 and the forecast would position this winter warmer than both the 10-year and 30-year norms on a gas-weighted heating degree day (HDD) basis. When compared to all other December through February periods since 1950, this upcoming winter is expected to be the 48th coldest, the forecasting service said.

MDA EarthSat Weather said three indicators in particular stood out when analyzing this winter. They are a strong La Nina event in the tropical Pacific, a sharp cooling over the waters in the North Pacific and warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic. As is typical with La Ninas, some variability is expected, which could deliver some brief but notable cold shots into the Lower 48 states during this winter season, the forecasting service added.

"The La Nina event in the central Pacific is looking to be one of the strongest, if the not the strongest, on record (since 1950) for this upcoming heating season," said Travis Hartman, energy manager and meteorologist for MDA EarthSat Weather. "This ENSO [El Nino/Southern Oscillation] event will very likely produce the mildest conditions in the South and East, while allowing for cool and wet conditions in the PacNW and Western Canada."

Hartman said the top four historical analog years, which most similarly featured these aforementioned atmospheric and oceanic characteristics, were 1998, 1973, 1988 and 1970.

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