Coming off the exceptionally warm January of last year, U.S. natural gas and electric utilities found themselves a little bit busier this year. While January 2009 proved to be colder than January 2008, temperatures for the contiguous United States last month were still “slightly above” the long-term average, based on records going back to 1895, according to a preliminary analysis by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, NC.

Despite the warmer-than-average conditions, NOAA’s Residential Energy Demand Temperature Index showed that the contiguous U.S. temperature-related energy demand was 3% above average in January.

According to NOAA, the average January temperature of 31.2 degrees Fahrenheit was 0.4 degrees above the 20th century average. The below-normal/above-normal temperature division for the month was longitudinal. January temperatures were below average across much of the eastern United States, while the western half of the nation experienced warmer-than-average temperatures.

NOAA data showed that California had its sixth warmest January on record while Maine and Michigan had their eighth and ninth coldest January on record, respectively.

While this year’s January was colder than the 2008 version, natural gas prices for January 2009 — aided by the economic depression — averaged much lower than during January 2008. Front-month natural gas futures prices during January 2009 traded between $4.395 and $6.220, a deep discount to January 2008’s $7.310 to $8.480 range.

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