Polar Vortex Talk Abounds, But U.S. Sees Mild Winter for Most
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is due for warmer-than-average weather across the South and most of the East Coast this winter, potentially easing natural gas shortfalls that have driven prices near record highs and spurred demand for coal around the globe.
Temperatures from Maine to Florida to Southern California are likely to be above average, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said in its annual winter outlook released Thursday. The Pacific Northwest and Alaska are forecast to be colder than normal. The key meteorological condition is La Nina, when cool water in the Pacific Ocean affects weather patterns.
“During La Nina events, we do favor warmer-than-normal conditions,” Jon Gottschalck, head of the center’s operational prediction branch, said during a conference call.
The outlook signals demand for gas to heat homes will remain low over the next several months, freeing up more fuel for power plants. The global economic recovery has led to surging need for electricity and booming gas exports from the U.S. Mild weather will help ensure that utilities have adequate supplies of gas and coal to keep the lights on.
It also means there may be less of a push to curtail gas exports to Europe and Asia, where fuel shortfalls have already triggered power outages and blackouts.
The big question now is whether the U.S. will still see bursts of frigid weather at points this coming season. Last winter, the polar vortex -- a swirl of winds that locks cold air in the Arctic -- gave way and released in February a blast of icy air that reached all the way to Texas, crippling the electric grid and killing at least 210 people.
While Gottschalck didn’t rule out the chances of polar vortex conditions bringing on cold weather again, he said that’s more typical in the late winter and it’s too soon now to make accurate predictions.
La Nina also tends to move the typical track for winter storms in the Northeast further inland. That may mean lower snowfall from Washington, D.C., to New York.
In the near future, the forecast includes heavy rain in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, the center said. As much a 10 inches of precipitation is expected, easing persistent drought conditions.
“The next several weeks will be a very wet period,” Gottschalck said.
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