Backing up its preliminary winter 2006-2007 forecasts from October (see NGI, Oct. 16; Oct. 23), meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Thursday reiterated once again that this season is likely to be warmer than the 30-year norm (1971-2000) across much of the nation, yet cooler than last year’s very warm winter season. If the forecast holds up, natural gas and power prices during this heating season could soften.

By sticking to its previous forecast, NOAA’s view of winter continues to differ significantly from the forecasts of the 2007 Farmers’ Almanac (see NGI, Sept. 11) as well as from a number of independent forecasters including, which are calling for colder than normal temperatures in certain regions.

NOAA’s heating degree day (HDD) forecast for December, January and February projects a 2% warmer winter than the 30-year average but about 9% cooler than last year. NOAA said a strengthening El Nino event continues to develop in the equatorial Pacific and is likely to continue into spring 2007.

“During moderate as well as strong El Nino episodes, an increase in the occurrence of extreme cold days, especially in the Northeast, becomes less likely,” said Vernon Kousky, research meteorologist at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center. “However, this current event is not expected to reach the magnitude of the very strong 1997-1998 El Nino episode.”

Overall, NOAA said it expects warmer than average temperatures across the Pacific Northwest, the northern and central Plains, the Midwest, the Northeast and northern Mid-Atlantic, as well as most of Alaska during December 2006 through February 2007. Near-average temperatures are favored for parts of the Southeast from Louisiana through North Carolina, while below-average temperatures are anticipated for Hawaii. Parts of the Mid-Atlantic, the Tennessee Valley, the Southwest from Texas to California and the intermountain West have equal chances of warmer, cooler and near-normal temperatures this winter.

“The prediction for a warmer than normal winter season does not mean we won’t have winter weather,” said Mike Halpert, lead seasonal forecaster at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center. “What it does mean is that on average this will be a milder than average winter across much of the North, with fewer arctic air outbreaks.”

NOAA said the precipitation outlook calls for wetter-than-average conditions across the entire southern tier of the country from central and southern California across the Southwest to Texas and across the Gulf Coast to Florida and the south Atlantic Coast. Drier-than-average conditions are favored in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, the northern Rockies and Hawaii. Other regions, including Alaska, have equal chances of drier, wetter or near average precipitation.

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