Possibly the biggest factor effecting your electric bill is the weather. It not only directly influences how much you use to heat or cool your home but also affects the demand, supply, and ultimately the price of energy on the wholesale markets. In our What’s the Weather? series, we’ll track weather forecasts and events to see how they impact your energy bills and how that information can help you save.
Winter Weather Outlook—Getting Complicated
NOAA’s most recent (November 16) long range forecast pretty much reiterates the same thing it’s been saying for two months: winter time temperatures will be above average over western Alaska, in the southern states, the southwest, and Texas with similar warmth extending up the eastern seaboard. The real cold is expected to remain in the northern great plains.
Except now there are warm high pressure ridges starting to take shape. Though not entirely unexpected in a La Niña year, the two ridges could cause problems in January. The first one is already in place southwest of Alaska with a smaller branch over southern California. The second ridge has formed over the Davis Strait between Baffin Island and Greenland.
The two ridges will likely form a trough over the central US for cold air to rush into. But, how much that affects winter temperatures along the eastern US —and when — is presently under debate. NOAA’s December through March forecasts show below average temperatures moving gradually eastward from the Great Plains through the upper Mississippi Valley and into the Great Lakes. The National Science Foundation’s December to February forecast, however, favors below average temperatures from the northwest, across Nebraska to Kentucky to South Carolina and up the east coast. Which one is the right one? Good question, and the one thing that’s certain is that due to the number of forecast models involved, there’s lots of uncertainty.
What are the Chances of a Polar Vortex?
Normally, the Polar Vortex likes to stay over a cold north pole, bounded by a fairly regular circulating Jet Stream. But, as we’ve seen in the 2014 cold wave, a warm Arctic and large blobs of warm air make the Jet stream go all wobbly, allowing the Polar Vortex to split apart, wander around, and slosh all over.
One thing that several sources are pointing to is the ridges and troughs forming over North America can’t be good for keeping the Jet Stream in a somewhat regular path. While there’s uncertainty about the degree to which the various factors affect the Polar Vortex, there seems the likelihood that it will destabilize by mid to late winter. Sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) which can destabilize the Polar Vortex, also tend to occur in January, making it likely that the US will see a blast of bitter cold weather beginning next year.
What’s Winter Going to Cost You?
Current natural gas in storage is just 2% under the five year average and 5% lower than the record-setting end-of-October level of 3,977 Bcf last year. So, the supply levels are good but a little tight. According the EIA, natural gas prices are expected to rise due to higher consumption levels by both electricity generators and LNG exports. Earlier forecasts stated that this winter was expected to be 13% colder than last year, but if temperatures are 10% colder (or wide spread) then natural gas prices could be 1% higher —not counting price spikes if there’s an Polar Vortex visit. In that case, well head or pipeline freeze-offs in the Marcellus-Utica shale formations, among others, during extreme cold could add to market prices further. Timing of a vortex visit will also play into natural gas price because as time goes by, there’s less gas in storage and the higher the price can go if demand suddenly spikes.
In brief then — if you live in Texas, you’ll likely have a lovely, warm winter and folks living in northern states will likely act a little cold towards you. For those northern dwelling folks, get ready for the weather to worsen until Christmas when the bottom drops out. As mentioned last month, though, there is still plenty of time to weatherize your home by improving its energy efficiency and getting your furnace checked over. Also, you can save your family lots of money by locking in a fixed electricity rate with Direct Energy.