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Polar Air to Lock on Eastern U.S. at Least to Mid-March

Snow in Washington
A woman walks in the snow past the U.S. Capitol on February 25, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Photographer: Michael Mathes/AFP via Getty Images

The eastern U.S. will be locked into a pattern of cold air, boosting energy use, through the first half of March, forecasters say.

Frigid weather will dominate from the Midwest to the Northeast as well as eastern Canada for at least the next two weeks and possibly beyond, said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.

“I am really impressed by the consistency of the cold for first part of March,” Rogers said by telephone today. “The cold air supply in Canada is strong again. I think it’s impressive that we’re seeing a March that is even colder than last year’s levels.”

March is the last month of the heating season, which began in November, during which the U.S. burns the most natural gas to warm homes and businesses.

Natural gas for March delivery fell as much as 12 percent to $4.788 today on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures yesterday surged to $6.493, the highest intraday price since Dec. 2, 2008, before closing 11 percent lower in the biggest one-day drop in six years.

“This move has little to do with market fundamentals,” said Teri Viswanath, director of commodities strategy at BNP Paribas SA in New York.

Anemic Prices

After a recent round of milder weather sent temperatures into the 50s Fahrenheit (about 12 Celsius) in New York over the weekend, “spot prices remain somewhat anemic,” Viswanath said.

“This is set to change tomorrow as the now-familiar pattern on polar intrusion from Canada re-emerges,” she said.

Based on natural gas-weighted heating degree days, a value used by governments and industry to measure energy use, March may be the coldest in 18 years, Rogers said.

Rogers is predicting the gas-weighted value for the month will be 725, above last year’s figure of 702 and the highest since 744 in March 1996.

The heating degree days value is calculated by subtracting the average temperature from a base of 65 degrees. Rogers said it’s important because normal temperatures fluctuate over the course of a year, while heating degree days can provide a consistent measure of energy use.

The normal average in New York’s Central Park on Jan. 10 is 32 degrees, while it’s 40 on March 10, according to the National Weather Service. Just looking at temperature “doesn’t always give you the right perspective on the answer,” Rogers said.

Cold March

A year ago, readings in March were the coolest since 2002 across the contiguous U.S., according to the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina. The 48 states had an average temperature of 40.8 degrees, or 0.9 degree below the 20th century average.

As February ends and March begins, low temperatures will be impressive, Rogers said.

Lows in Chicago are forecast to be in the single digits through March 6, said MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland. New York, Philadelphia and Washington will all have low readings in the 20s.

Boston, St. Louis and Cincinnati will be in the teens and Minneapolis is likely to be below zero.

A storm moving through the eastern U.S. in the next six to 10 days may make a dent in the cold, MDA said in its forecast.

“But once the storm shifts east, strong cold returns again as high pressure presses in from the Plains south and eastward,” the company said in its forecast.

Staying Cold

There is a high chance below-normal temperatures will hold across the Midwest and Ohio Valley from March 2 to 10, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. The best chance for frigid readings will be across the Great Lakes.

The cold may be bottled up in the eastern U.S. through the second week of March when a weather pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation locks into its negative phase, Weather Services International in Andover, Massachusetts said in a forecast analysis.

“There is now an elevated risk of a negative North Atlantic Oscillation ridge to appear, which would likely keep the lobe of the Polar Vortex over southeastern Canada and keep the source of cold temperatures close to the U.S.,” WSI said in its analysis.

It’s possible there will be a slight break in lower-than-normal readings by the third week in March, Rogers said. However, he predicts the spring as a whole in the U.S. will be cooler.

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