Forecasters Predict Colder U.S. Winter Will Spur Fuel Demand

The coming winter will probably be colder than average in the eastern U.S., creating a greater demand for heating fuels, according to forecasts that disagree over how bitter the weather will get.

The heating season will get an early start, with November expected to be colder than normal for the East Coast, according to seasonal outlooks released today by Commodity Weather Group LLC and Weather Services International. CWG predicts the coldest winter in a decade while WSI forecasts milder weather.

“With above-normal heating demand expected, withdrawal rates from natural gas storage are likely to run above normal in the consuming East,” said Chris Kostas, senior power and gas analyst at Energy Security Analysis Inc., which works with Andover, Massachusetts-based WSI.

The outlook by the two commercial forecasters comes less than a week after the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said the northern U.S. will probably have a colder and wetter winter because of a strengthening La Nina in the Pacific Ocean.

La Nina, a cooling of the water in the central Pacific, tends to mean colder-than-normal winter temperatures in the North and milder and drier weather in the South. It also moves the storm track across the U.S. farther to the north, which can mean more snow.

Price Impact

The colder weather may mean natural gas prices will rise as more energy is needed for heating starting next month, Kostas said in a statement from his Wakefield, Massachusetts, office. About 51 percent of U.S. households use natural gas for heating and power plants use about 30 percent of the nation’s gas supplies, according to Energy Department data.

November is expected to be 9.3 percent colder than last year, with December forecast to be 0.6 percent cooler, CWG President Matt Rogers said in his seasonal outlook.

The commercial forecasters diverge as to the severity and longevity of winter’s bite.

CWG, based in Bethesda, Maryland, predicts the coming winter will be the coldest since 2000-2001.

“That was a powerhouse winter,” Rogers said in an e- mailed response to questions.

He said the gas-weighted heating degree days value for the U.S. will reach 4,024 this year, compared with 3,928.2 last year and the 10-year average of 3724.4. The winter of 2000-2001 had a value of 4,167.7, according to CWG.

Degree Days

Heating degree days, calculated by subtracting the daily average temperature from a base of 65 degrees, are designed to show energy demand. Higher values mean cooler weather and more energy being used to heat homes and business.

Gas-weighted degree days give more value to areas where there are higher populations using natural gas to stay warm.

CWG also predicts much of Europe will be colder than normal, with the lowest temperatures most likely in France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and central Russia. Most of China will have lower-than-normal temperatures, the forecaster said.

WSI forecasts that the northern and eastern U.S. will have lower-than-normal temperatures in December and January, with milder weather in February and March.

“There are numerous indications that the cold will not be as extreme as it was during the last two winters,” WSI’s chief meteorologist, Todd Crawford, said in a statement. “The current state of the oceans is almost identical to that observed in October 2008, which was only a moderately cold winter.”

Heating Demand

By the end of the season, in March, WSI anticipates there will have been 6 percent less heating demand than last year. Demand will be 5 percent greater than the 1981-2010 average, according to a company statement.

The forecasts may be wrong, said Michael Schlacter, chief meteorologist at Weather 2000 in New York.

“We have to wait until winter before we can talk about winter, October is October,” Schlacter said in a telephone interview.

La Nina is an important element of this year’s forecasts and the phenomenon doesn’t always act as expected, Schlacter said. While the southern U.S. usually has milder temperatures in a La Nina, during last year’s episode there was a threat of snow at the Super Bowl in Dallas, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Stets at dstets@bloomberg.net

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