Colder-than-normal temperatures will dominate the Northeast through at least January, but current conditions indicate that the cold “will not be as extreme as it was during the last two winters,” according to Andover, MA-based Weather Services International (WSI).

“The current state of the oceans [is] almost identical to that observed in October 2008, which was only a moderately cold winter,” said WSI Chief Meteorologist Todd Crawford. “Further, we have finally emerged from the unusually long lull in solar activity that likely contributed to the extreme nature of recent winters. Lastly, the multi-year tendency towards North Atlantic atmospheric blocking has already waned a bit in 2011, relative to the previous three years. This indicates that the atmosphere is likely regressing back to the mean a bit from the recent and persistent anomalous state. So, while we do expect another cold winter across much of the northern U.S., we think that the winter will be much closer to 2008-09 than 2010-11.”

WSI forecasters, who last month said they expect a third straight year of early cold weather for the northern and eastern United States (see Daily GPI, Sept. 21), said they now believe “that the worst of the cold across the northern and eastern U.S. will be in December and January, and that the back half of winter could be significantly milder.” WSI’s forecast calls for a 6% reduction in heating demand relative to last winter, but a 5% increase relative to 1981-2010 averages.

Colder-than-normal temperatures will be in place across the eastern United States in November, while the rest of the country will average warmer than normal, WSI said.

“With above-normal heating demand expected, withdrawal rates from natural gas storage are likely to run above normal in the Consuming East (currently 1% below both last year’s level and the five-year average),” according to Energy Securities Analysis Inc. (ESAI) Senior Analyst Chris Kostas. “Production is growing quickly in the Marcellus Shale region (particularly northeastern Pennsylvania), however. This year-over-year incremental increase in regional supply will partially offset weather-related demand for stored natural gas.

“On balance, we believe November natural gas prices are likely to firm from current depressed Nymex [New York Mercantile Exchange] levels…Milder weather west of the Mississippi will offset some of the increased gas demand from the East, and western gas basis prices (along with implied market heat rates) are expected to be relatively soft. This should translate into subdued power prices and volatility in [Electric Reliability Council of Texas] and California.”

By December, WSI expects colder-than-normal weather to have moved into the Northwest and North Central areas, and to remain in place in the northern tier of the Northeast, though the region’s southern tier will be warmer than normal. That blast of colder air moving into the northern United States should continue the above-normal heating demand in the Consuming East, Kostas said.

“Some of the increased demand from the Midwest should be offset by the slightly warmer-than-normal temperatures that are expected throughout the South and along the East Coast, however,” he said. “The Northwest and West Coast are also expected to be cooler than normal. This will boost the relatively soft western basis prices expected in November. Historically, a colder-than-normal December translates into firm Henry Hub prices. As a result, we expect natural gas prices will continue the uptrend that is likely to begin in November.”

WSI’s temperature forecast remains almost unchanged moving into January, though the Northeast’s southern tier will again experience colder-than-normal temperatures. Gas prices could receive some support from much colder-than-normal temperatures expected in the Midwest during the first month of 2012, Kostas said. And despite warmer-than-normal temperatures in the South and California, ESAI believes a trend towards higher gas prices will begin in November and continue into January.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week said it expects a La Nina event to influence winter weather patterns across the United States, while the less predictable Arctic Oscillation could produce “dramatic” swings in winter temperatures (see Daily GPI, Oct. 24). While those weather events make it likely that the Southern Plains will continue to see drier- and warmer-than-average weather, the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Ohio and Tennessee valleys, Florida and the South Atlantic coast have equal chances for above-, near- or below-normal temperatures this winter, NOAA said.

Forecasters at have said they expect the La Nina event to prompt especially harsh temperatures and snowfall across the Midwest and Great Lakes region, while the Northeast can expect winter 2011-2012 to be somewhat less extreme than last year (see Daily GPI, Oct. 6).

WSI is scheduled to issue its next seasonal outlook on Nov. 22.

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