A streak of above-normal temperatures that led to the fourth-warmest U.S. winter on record is expected to continue for the next three months, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
NOAA said the southern states of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi will have the highest chance of warm weather from March through May. The forecast was part of a report that said Texas may get drought relief and that the risk of spring river flooding will be the lowest in four years.
Temperatures around the U.S. have been as high as 35 degrees Fahrenheit (19.4 Celsius) above normal in the past week, with 400 record highs set yesterday, said Laura Furgione, deputy director of the National Weather Service.
“We’re already feeling May-like warmth in parts of the country this week,” Furgione said in a conference call by U.S. weather agencies with reporters.
Warmer temperatures across the U.S. in the last three months has “decimated the market” for natural gas, said Stephen Schork, president of Schork Group in Villanova, Pennsylvania, and reduced the need for all types of energy for heating. The trend is expected to continue through May in the eastern U.S. as well as the Southwest.
The natural gas market looks for cold air in Illinois during the winter and hot weather in Texas during the summer when gauging weather impact, said Teri Viswanath, director of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas in New York.
Watching Natural Gas
Those two areas make good barometers because natural gas is their primary fuel for heating and cooling, she said. In the mid-Atlantic region and Northeast, a wider variety of fuels is used to heat homes.
Natural gas for April delivery fell 0.5 cent, or 0.2 percent, to settle at $2.279 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The futures, which are down 24 percent this year, fell to $2.204 on March 13, the lowest intraday price since Feb. 15, 2002.
“We obviously have a glut in the supply,” said Schork. “Without any significant cooling demand or air-conditioning demand, the glut will persist through this summer and will continue to weigh on price.”
A snowstorm in the Northeast at the end of October bolstered predictions by some forecasters that the U.S. would be in for a frigid winter. The cold weather never materialized, and with increasing production and weak industrial demand, gas inventories soared.
This winter in the contiguous U.S. was the warmest since the record winter of 2000, the climate center said. Meteorologists designate winter as being from Dec. 1 to Feb. 29. The calendar start to spring is based on the equinox.
Winter wheat has begun to break out of dormancy across the Midwest and Plains, and corn planting is ahead of schedule in the South, said MDA EarthSat Weather in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Less snow across the contiguous U.S. and drier soil mean most of the U.S. faces a normal or below-normal risk of spring flooding, Furgione said.
“This is the first time in four years without a high risk of major flooding,” Furgione said.
The Ohio River Valley and Louisiana have an elevated risk of high water, Furgione said. They aren’t expected to face anything close to the record flooding that swept down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers last year.
The report also said parts of northeastern Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas may get some relief from a severe drought. However, a large part of the southern U.S. from California to Florida is still struggling with drought and that is expected to continue, said David Brown, director of NOAA’s Southern Regional Climate Services.
“The historic magnitude means recovery from the drought will be a very slow process,” Brown said on the conference call.
Brown said the drought caused $6.5 billion in agricultural losses in Texas and Oklahoma last year and led to wildfires that burned 4 million acres in Texas alone.
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