Winter May Bring Snow to East, Boost Gas Use: AccuWeather

The winter of 2012-2013 will probably bring a boost to heating fuels compared with last year and leave above-normal snowfall from Massachusetts to Alabama, AccuWeather Inc. said.

The coldest part of the winter will probably be in February, with slightly warmer than average weather in December that may bring the entire season near normal, said Paul Pastelok, long-range forecaster for AccuWeather in State College, Pennsylvania. The result for energy markets may be brighter than last year, when record warmth helped crimp natural gas prices.

“It’s not going to be a record year but they’re going to do better than they did last year,” Pastelok said. “It’s hard to say normal because I don’t know if anyone knows what normal is anymore.”

Traders are watching the coming season because last year’s higher U.S. temperatures, combined with increased production, kept natural gas stockpiles up and prices down. Natural gas futures fell to a 10-year low in the U.S. this year and by April made the fuel the worst performer on Standard & Poor’s GSCI commodity index.

The winter of 2011-2012 was the fourth-warmest on record in the contiguous 48 states, with an average temperature of 36.8 degrees Fahrenheit (2.7 Celsius), said the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina.

Weather Patterns

Among the main patterns in determining the weather for the coming season are the Arctic and North Atlantic oscillations, which can spill cold air into the heart of North America and then keep it bottled up there for weeks.

While predicting what the oscillations will do more than a few weeks in advance can be difficult, Pastelok said some researchers believe they have identified features in the atmosphere that may help forecasters.

According to that research, there are indications the oscillations will favor their negative, or colder, phase, in December to February, Pastelok said. In the next few weeks, colder air will spread across the Midwest and U.S. Northeast, and that may be an indication of how the winter takes shape.

Pastelok said the Appalachian Mountains south of New Hampshire and the coastal areas of the mid-Atlantic states from New York to Virginia may receive more snow than normal. The northern U.S. from Washington and Oregon to northern Illinois, including Chicago, will receive less, he said.

Boston and the northern New England states of New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine should have near-normal snowfall amounts, he said by telephone.

Unusually warm water in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New England may provide fuel for storms coming up the coast and at the same time keep snowfall amounts lower. It’s not known how long that warmer water will last, he said.