U.S. Set for More Arctic Cold as Natural Gas Prices Surge

The U.S. will get another blast of freezing arctic air this week, bringing snow and sleet as far south as Texas and helping push natural gas to a four-year high.

“A very strong cold front will be bringing frigid conditions back to the central and eastern U.S.,” the National Weather Service said in a bulletin on its website at 3:01 a.m. eastern time. Subfreezing highs are expected “well into the Deep South,” with snow, sleet, and freezing rain expected by tomorrow near the Central Gulf Coast and becoming heavier over the Carolinas.

“This rare winter storm will make many people who love snow very happy,” according to the report.

January is on track to be the coldest month of the century in the lower 48 states, according to Commodity Weather Group LLC, after waves of freezing air swept across the country. Natural gas rose for a fifth day in New York and was poised for the highest close in almost four years, while heating oil traded at the highest prices in almost five months. Wheat rose on speculation that the freezing weather will harm crops.

As of 9:20 a.m. New York time, 749 U.S. flights had been scrubbed today. O’Hare International in Chicago was the airport most affected, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based tracking service. The temperature there at the time was 3 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 19 Celsius), said AccuWeather Inc.

Four of the 10 coldest days of the 21st century in the contiguous U.S. states occurred this month, Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group in Bethesda, Maryland, said last week. Chicago was colder than the South Pole at the start of the month.

“The big picture cold pattern is still the main story over the next few weeks as significant high latitude ridging from the Bering Sea to the Pole and even dipping more toward Greenland now helps send significant cold air south through North America,” the College Park, Maryland-based weather service said today in a report.

Gas Prices

Natural gas for February delivery advanced as much as 5 percent to $5.442 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange, then slid to $5.082 at 9:26 a.m. as forecasts showed mostly normal weather for the East Coast in February. The contract jumped 20 percent last week, the most since October 2010.

Gas inventories dropped by 1.386 trillion cubic feet to

2.423 trillion from Oct. 31 through Jan. 17. The drop was 50 percent more than the five-year average decline of 927 billion for the period, Jose Villar, an analyst with the U.S. Energy Information Administration, said in an e-mail Jan. 23. It’s the fastest pace of withdrawals on record for the period, he said.

Chicago will have a low of minus 12 degrees Fahrenheit today, 30 degrees below normal, according to AccuWeather in State College, Pennsylvania. Boston’s low today will be 13 degrees, nine degrees below the average. There is a chance for rain or a snow shower in East Rutherford, New Jersey, during the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, with temperatures around normal at 24 degrees.

Oil Gains

Ultra low sulfur diesel futures, a proxy for heating oil, gained as much as 1.5 percent to $3.1835 a gallon in New York, the highest since Aug. 30. Prices have risen eight times in the past nine days. West Texas Intermediate oil for March delivery was at $96.81 a barrel, up 17 cents, on the Nymex at 9:30 a.m.

Wheat futures in Chicago rose for a second time in three days on speculation that the U.S., the world’s biggest shipper, may reduce output because of the cold.

The contract for March delivery on the Chicago Board of Trade gained as much as 0.7 percent to $5.69 a bushel and was at $5.6825 by 8:44 a.m. Prices advanced 0.3 percent last week, snapping a seven-week slump, the longest since October 2008.

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