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Latest winter outlook 'will not bode well' for US natural gas market

The Weather Company is still forecasting slightly below-normal temperatures across most of the northern U.S. and warmer-than-normal temperatures for most of the southern half of the country, especially the Southwest, Texas and the southern Rockies, for the January 2018-March 2018 period.

In its latest U.S. seasonal forecast released Dec. 19, The Weather Company chief meteorologist Todd Crawford said cold will settle into the northern U.S. for much of the last half of the "wildly volatile month" of December.

"The colder weather in the Northeast is not surprising in December during La Niña events. The difficult forecast question is how fast the focus of the cold shifts westward from the Northeast to the Northwest by the end of winter into early spring," he said. "We expect volatility to continue to be the name of the game in January, with the coldest air gradually settling into the north-central states and continued warmth and dryness across most of the southern U.S."

Jeff Richter, principal at EnergyGPS, which partnered in the outlook, said the divided winter outlook in the Lower 48 "will not bode well for upside to the overall natural gas market in January … [which] is evident by the big push down on the winter strip through the first couple weeks of December, so widespread cold air is needed in January to keep pace with the incremental supply on the grid."

Richter noted that any warmer-than-normal conditions will keep downward pressure on the remaining portion of the winter 2018 strip by February, and four of the six regions are expected to be relatively warm.

"If this sticks, the excess supply will have to be eaten up by stimulated demand such as power burns," he said. "When this is the case, we have to go to specific price levels that turn on natural gas-fired generation and displace the coal units on economically. The issue with this is when the coal is on for reliability and/or winter assessment."

Prices should remain under pressure in March with expected warmth in the Northeast, South Central and Southeast.

"The Northwest is a place to keep an eye on as the combination of colder-than-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation keeps the water year volatile," Richter said.

The Weather Company will issue its next seasonal outlook on Jan. 23, 2018.