With major winter weather forecasts still not in agreement, it appears that the energy industry will be forced to wait and see what Mother Nature actually has in store this year. Sticking to its winter forecast released earlier this month (see Daily GPI, Oct. 11), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reiterated on Thursday that it expects this winter to be warmer than the 30-year norm (1971-2000) over much of the nation, yet cooler than last year’s very warm winter season.

NOAA’s heating degree day forecast for December, January and February projects a 2% warmer winter than the 30-year average but about 8% cooler than last year.

While NOAA’s forecast is mostly in agreement with a forecast by EarthSat Energy Weather, it differs significantly from the forecasts of AccuWeather.com and the 2007 Farmers’ Almanac. AccuWeather.com Chief Long-Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi said earlier in the week that he expects the 2006-2007 winter to be colder than normal along the high-energy-demand East Coast and eastern Gulf Coast.

Bastardi said he believes that the current El Nino pattern will be one of the factors that determines the nature of the coming winter, but that the government’s weather service is overplaying its effects. Unlike the NOAA forecast, Bastardi does not see this winter being warmer than normal across the vast majority of the country. However, he is predicting a warmer-than-normal winter from the western Great Lakes to the Pacific Northwest.

It’s not unusual for the winter forecasts of AccuWeather and NOAA to be at odds. For example, in October 2005 NOAA called for a warmer-than-normal 2005-2006 winter, while AccuWeather was looking for colder-than-normal conditions at least in the Northeast (see Daily GPI, Oct. 13, 2005). The winter turned out to be warmer than normal on the whole.

While the 2007 Farmers’ Almanac predicts a cold 2006-2007 winter from coast to coast for the U.S. (see Daily GPI, Aug. 31), EarthSat Energy Weather, like NOAA, expects the season to be colder than last year but warmer than normal (see Daily GPI, Oct. 17).

NOAA pointed out that while there has been early season snowfall in Buffalo and wintry weather in the upper Midwest and Rockies this month, NOAA’s meteorologists say there is not much correlation between fall weather and the winter season.

From December through February, NOAA said it expects warmer-than-average temperatures across parts of the West, Southwest, Plains states, Midwest, parts of the Northeast and northern Mid-Atlantic region, as well as most of Alaska. Near-average temperatures are favored for parts of the Southeast, while below-average temperatures are anticipated for Hawaii. Maine, the southern Mid-Atlantic region, the Tennessee Valley, much of Texas and California, and the intermountain West have equal chances of warmer, cooler, and near-normal temperatures this winter.

NOAA said current weak El Nino conditions (warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the Pacific, and other indicators) have developed across the tropical Pacific during the past few months and that current conditions and various forecasts imply that El Nino conditions may strengthen during the next few months. “However, this event is not expected to reach the magnitude of the very strong 1997-1998 El Nino episode,” said Vernon Kousky, research meteorologist at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Over the years, NOAA said its scientists have found that there tends to be some variety in impacts among El Nino events. The stronger the event, the more likely it becomes that much of the nation will experience a warmer than average winter. However, it is important to note, “El Nino does not always mean impending disaster,” Kousky added.

NOAA’s precipitation outlook calls for wetter than average conditions across the Southwest from central and southern California to Texas and for Florida and the south Atlantic Coast. Drier than average conditions are favored in the Ohio Valley, the northern Rockies and Hawaii. Other regions have equal chances of drier, wetter or near average precipitation. NOAA’s Seasonal Drought Outlook, also updated Thursday, reflects the pattern of rainfall expected this winter. “This pattern is expected to improve drought conditions across Arizona, Texas, portions of the Plains and Southeast,” NOAA said. “Drought is predicted to develop across parts of Idaho, Washington and Oregon.”

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