A strengthening El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean could bring some bad news for the natural gas industry in the form of a warmer-than-normal winter across the northern tier of the United States this year, according to forecasters at MDA Weather Services.

MDA’s outlook calls for a strong El Nino event in the fall and winter months, “though perhaps falling just shy of the record intensity found in 1982-83 and 1997-98,” but even the weakest of models forecast some significant El Nino conditions through the winter, MDA said.

“This El Nino event is on pace to be the strongest since 1997-98, with the potential to match or even exceed that record year in terms of intensity,” said MDA’s Bob Haas, manager of Energy Weather Services. “Typical impacts span many industries, but in terms of the energy industry, El Ninos of this intensity tend to result in unusually low heating demands through the winter months across the key Midwest and East regions.”

Typically, a strong El Nino brings colder-than-normal temperatures to the Midwest and eastern United States September to November, along with 5-10% colder-than-normal temperatures overall based on national gas-weighted heating degree days (GWHDD), wetter-than-normal conditions in California and the Southwest, and drier-than-normal conditions in Texas and the Northwest.

From December to February, strong El Ninos bring expansive warmer-than-normal conditions across the northern United States, along with 3-5% warmer-than-normal temperatures based on national GWHDD, wetter-than-normal conditions along the West and East Coasts and across the South, and drier-than-normal conditions in the Ohio Valley, MDA said.

AccuWeather forecasters have also said that a strong El Nino event would bring milder winter conditions to the North and welcome drought relief to the Southwest (see Daily GPI, July 13).