While a number of high-energy-demand markets were hit with their first real cold snap of the 2006-2007 heating season late last week, it appears the United States on average will enjoy above-normal temperatures once again this winter, according to the U.S. Winter Weather Outlook released last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

According to scientists at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC), most of the country will see winter temperatures above normal though slightly cooler than last year’s very warm winter (see NGI, Oct. 17, 2005). In addition, drought conditions also are expected to improve in most areas of the Southwest, while some drought conditions should persist in parts of the Pacific Northwest.

From December through February, NOAA predicts that the Lower 48 states can expect about 2% fewer heating degree days (HDD) than average but about 5-10% more HDDs than last year’s very warm winter. A heating degree day is used as an indication of fuel consumption. One heating degree day is given for each degree that the daily mean temperature is below 65 degrees.

NOAA’s seasonal forecasters also expect warmer-than-average temperatures across the West, the Southwest, the Plains states, the Midwest, most of the Northeast, and the northern Mid-Atlantic, as well as most of Alaska. The government forecasting service expects near-average temperatures for parts of the Southeast and below-average temperatures for Hawaii.

Maine, the southern Mid-Atlantic, the Tennessee Valley and much of Texas have equal chances of warmer, cooler and near-normal temperatures this winter.

The forecasters noted that weak El Nino conditions have developed in the equatorial Pacific Ocean and are expected to persist through the winter, possibly strengthening during the next few months to an event of moderate strength. However, NOAA said this event is not expected to reach the magnitude of the very strong 1997-1998 El Nino event.

“The strengthening El Nino event will influence the position and strength of the jet stream over the Pacific Ocean, which in turn will affect winter precipitation and temperature patterns across the country,” said Michael Halpert, lead forecaster at the NOAA CPC. “This event is likely to result in fewer cold air outbreaks in the country than would be expected to occur in a typical non-El Nino winter.”

NOAA said its winter outlook reflects a blend of factors associated with weak to moderate strength El Nino events across the central and eastern Pacific Ocean, combined with longer-term trends.

The outlook for winter precipitation calls for wetter-than-average conditions across the Southwest from Southern California to Texas and for Florida and the South Atlantic coast. NOAA expects drier-than-average conditions in the Tennessee Valley, the northern Rockies, the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii. Other regions have equal chances of drier, wetter or near-normal precipitation. “The pattern of rainfall in the West is expected to improve drought conditions across Arizona and Texas, but result in drought across parts of Idaho, Washington and Oregon,” NOAA said.

NOAA said the CPC will update the U.S. Winter Weather Outlook on Oct. 19 and again on Nov. 16.

©Copyright 2006Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news reportmay not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in anyform, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.