Winter 2013-2014 is likely to bring above-average temperatures to most of the South and portions of New England, with below-average temperatures expected across the Northern Plains, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in its annual Winter Outlook, which was released Thursday.

"The rest of the country falls into the 'equal chance' category, which means that there's not a strong or reliable enough climate signal in these areas to favor one category over the other," said Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

The season is also likely to see a continuation of drought in the Southwest and a developing drought in the Southeast, NOAA said.

"Despite recent advancements, this year's weather outlook has again proven to be quite challenging as we're not seeing strong climate signals and patterns that often give us clues as to what the season will bring," Halpert said.

"El Nino and La Nina are global climate patterns that often strongly influence winter temperatures and precipitation in the United States. However, we've been ENSO-neutral since spring 2012, and that's expected to continue throughout the winter. In their absence, we based the outlook on factors that offer a less definitive forecast, such as long-term trends."

Most forecasters have been calling for a relatively mild winter this year. Temperatures across the United States through January will be a decidedly mixed bag, with early cold in central and eastern areas expected to fade in the first days of 2014, according to forecasters at Weather Services International (WSI) (see Daily GPI,Oct. 22). WSI's gas-weighted heating degree day forecast numbers for November are 3% higher than the 1981-2010 average but are slightly lower than normal for December, January and February. Forecasters at the Farmers' Almanac, on the other hand, expect the winter will be colder than normal for most of the United States (see Daily GPI,Aug. 27).

With the exception of localized spikes during periods of high demand, natural gas prices aren't expected to increase significantly this winter, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Winter 2013-2014 Energy Market Assessment (see Daily GPI,Oct. 17). And the U.S. Energy Information Administration -- which expects the Henry Hub spot price for natural gas to increase to $4.00/MMBtu next year, compared with an estimated $3.71/MMBtu this year -- expects average winter temperatures this year to be roughly in line with the 10-year average (see Daily GPI,Oct. 9).

Barring unexpectedly cold weather this winter, rising natural gas production will prevent prices from eclipsing $4/MMBtu, according to BNP Paribas' Teri Viswanath, director of commodity strategy (see Daily GPI,Nov. 11). BNP Paribas' latest price forecast sees natural gas at $3.55/MMBtu in 4Q2013, $3.90/MMBtu in 1Q2014, and $4.20/MMBtu by 4Q2014.