A massive cold wave forecast through next week for the Northeast and areas as far south as Atlanta could continue to drive the prices of home heating fuels higher, according to AccuWeather.com.

A weather pattern around Greenland is driving a cold snap that could settle over much of the eastern United States and portions of Europe for several weeks, AccuWeather.com meteorologist Jim Andrews said Wednesday.

“A major arctic wave is set to hit the country now and could last into February,” Andrews said. he added that major U.S. cities will be affected, causing millions to heat their homes more and for longer periods this winter season.

During the coldest periods, an area stretching from New England to Atlanta could see daytime highs in the 20s. Portions of the deep South could see record freezing temperatures next week, and bitter cold temperatures are forecast for the Plains as well, the forecaster said.

According to AccuWeather.com, heating oil prices, which have fallen this month but are up 20 cents/gallon compared with last December, could increase based on the demand caused by the cold temperatures. Weather-related shortages were reported in the Mid-Atlantic region after two feet of snow fell in the Washington, DC, area Dec. 19.

Natural gas futures prices have well more than doubled since the beginning of September when the front-month contract reached a low of $2.409/MMBtu. On Tuesday the January contract finished its front-month run at $5.814/MMBtu.

February crude oil rose $1.38 to $78.05/bbl on Tuesday, up about 12% in the past two weeks, and some analysts expect prices to surge above $80 this week.

AccuWeather.com’s forecast was somewhat at odds with a recent outlook from Andover, MA-based WSI Corp., which called for warmer-than-normal temperatures in January in the Northwest and the Northeast except Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware (see Daily GPI, Dec. 22). According to the WSI forecast, almost all of the country can expect temperatures to average cooler than normal from January to March. WSI is forecasting 2,475 gas-weighted heating degree days during the three-month period, approximately 2.5% more than January-March 2009 and about 2% more than the 1971-2000 average.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (see Daily GPI, Oct. 16) and AccuWeather.com Chief Long Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi (see Daily GPI, Oct. 15) have each said colder weather will dominate portions of the East through February, and each said the nation’s winter weather will be significantly affected by El Nino. But NOAA said it expected the current El Nino — the warming of surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean — to strengthen and persist through the winter, while Bastardi said El Nino will fade over the same period.

Turning its back on “group think” winter weather forecasts, WxRisk.com has said it expects the Midwest — not the East — to experience the coldest temperatures relative to normal this winter (see Daily GPI, Oct. 27).

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