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WSI: Fading La Nina to Roil Summer Temperatures

With the current La Nina event expected to continue to fade, temperatures over the next three months will average cooler than normal across the northern United States, while above-normal temperatures will dominate the nation's southern tier, according to Andover, MA-based WSI Corp.

"As we head deeper into spring, the waning La Nina event is still the primary driver of the northern hemispheric pattern, even though the magnitude of the event is diminishing," said WSI Chief Meteorologist Todd Crawford. "This has resulted in the cool North-warm South pattern that has been responsible for so much extreme weather during the past month, with unusual late season snowstorms across the northern U.S., very hot and dry weather across much of the deep South and record-breaking levels of severe weather in between. There is no immediate sign that this pattern will be breaking anytime soon."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently predicted that La Nina conditions could persist but should be weaker, if not neutral, by May or June (see Daily GPI, Feb. 23).

WSI's forecast for May calls for temperatures to average cooler than normal across the nation's northern tier and into the Southwest, with warmer-than-normal temperatures in place in the Southeast and South Central areas.

"Demand for gas from the power sector will be higher in the warmer regions due to early season cooling but should be offset by lower demand for gas in other regions," Energy Security Analysis Inc. (ESAI) Director of Power and Gas Paul Flemming said in a statement issued in conjunction with WSI's outlook. "Increased demand for gas due to coal and nuclear generator maintenance will continue to be a factor in May as gas-fired generators fill the gap, but most maintenance will be completed by the end of May. Power prices in the Northeast and western markets will be moderate given the cooler temperature outlook."

Warmer-than-normal temperatures will move into the Northeast and Southwest in June, WSI said. While that should be bullish for prices in New York, New England and PJM, cooler-than-normal temperatures in California and the Northwest will probably keep power prices subdued in those markets, Flemming said.

"With warmer weather expected across the southern tier of the country in addition to the Northeast, overall gas demand should be above average," said Flemming.

Much of WSI's forecast map reverses in July, with cooler-than-normal weather moving into the East and South Central areas, while warmer-than-normal temperatures are expected in the North Central region and inland in the Northwest. "Cooler-than-normal temperatures in the key eastern U.S., Texas and California markets will result in lower-than-normal natural gas demand" in July, Flemming said.

Looking ahead to late summer, Crawford said the Northeast could see some "significant heat."

WSI is scheduled to issue its next seasonal outlook on May 24.

WSI, which previously forecast a more intense hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin this year (see Daily GPI, Dec. 9, 2010), is scheduled to issue an updated hurricane forecast Wednesday. The 2011 Atlantic hurricane season officially begins June 1.

AccuWeather.com forecasters, who have predicted a higher-than-normal number of tropical systems with more direct impacts on the U.S. than last year (see Daily GPI, April 1), on Monday said any effects of hurricanes on the energy industry -- including spiking prices for gasoline -- aren't likely to last long.

"How long the spike in price lasts is usually a byproduct of the damage that was done. If there is no long-term damage, [the price] corrects itself relatively quickly," according to AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Ken Reeves. "Hurricanes do have an effect, but it's mostly short term. Economic and political influences are the overriding factors."

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which wreaked havoc in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) during a four-week period in August and September 2005, destroyed 115 platforms and kept significant amounts of gas and oil shut in for months (see Daily GPI, Jan. 20, 2006). But those storms were considered "the greatest natural disasters to oil and gas development in the history of the Gulf of Mexico," according to one Minerals Management Service (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement) official.

Despite being one of the busiest hurricane seasons in years, 2010 brought relatively little damage to the U.S. mainland and energy interests in the GOM (see Daily GPI, Dec. 1, 2010). Short-term weather patterns, including the position of the jet stream and the tendency of last year's tropical storms to form in the extreme eastern Atlantic, helped to keep many of 2010's storms away from the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

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