One weather expert expects the sixth-coldest winter since2000, but past winters that have had the same leading indicators point to thepotential for volatile temperatures and even the prospect of a mild winter.
"A year ago, the weather community was mostlyforecasting a warm winter. We had a Godzilla El Niño out there," CommodityWeather Group President Matt Rogers told the audience assembled at the NorthAmerican Energy Markets Association fall conference in Bloomington, Minn., onOct. 7. "All the weather forecasters were in good agreement that we weregoing to have a warm, bearish winter, and that worked out really well. Thisyear, I'm seeing more divergence in opinions and views about the weather."
In building the case for bullish weather this winter, Rogerscited the cool equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures — a phenomenon knownas La Niña — and masses of relatively warm water in the northeast and northwestPacific Ocean.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationdropped its La Niña watch Sept. 8, but Rogers said equatorial Pacific seasurface temperatures were "negative neutral" — cold, but just notcold enough to be classified as a La Niña — and suggested that NOAA couldreinstate its La Niña watch.
Rogers said of the four weak La Niñas since 2000, two ofthem were colder than normal.
"I will tell you a 50% chance of a cold winter is amuch higher chance than we had last winter," Rogers said.
Prior to 2000 and going back to 1950, 75% of La Niña winterswere colder than normal. Taken all together, La Niñas give a 67% chance of acold winter. Even if equatorial Pacific waters remain in negative neutral, thoseconditions offer a two-thirds chance of a colder than normal winter, Rogerssaid.
Regarding the northern Pacific, Rogers said that he observedwhen those waters are warm during the summer, you tend to have cold from thebeginning to the end of the following winter, but hedged his statement bysaying that he has only observed this phenomenon during four seasons.
Rogers said the phenomenon sets up blocking high pressureover Alaska and Greenland that flushes cold air into the midlatitudes.
"So whether you're in Asia, North America or Europe,you get better chances for cold air distribution into the [energy] consumingareas," Rogers said.
Rogers said he used a composite of the closest tropicalPacific match from 1995 to 1996 winter and the top northern Pacific match fromthe 2013 to 2014 winter — the same winter as the polar vortex — as analoguesfor his current forecast, and threw in a hedge from the winter 2005 to 2006, awinter during which the weak La Niña did not pan out into a strong winter.Rogers said he is increasingly confident that bullish factors will win out, sohe gave the historical bullish winters greater weight in his most recentforecast.
"Everyone is going to be a lot colder than last year.It's just a matter of how much colder everyone is going to get," Rogersconcluded. "I don't expect it to be cold every single day or every singleweek. We'll probably have some warmer volatility in there. The one thing I willsay about La Niña winters is the standard deviation is higher. You flip arounda lot. If you remember the 1995 to 1996 winter, we had a huge blizzard inWashington, D.C., and then we melted it like crazy during the next week. Therewas flooding in Pennsylvania on the Susquehanna. It does jump around a lot.Traders like volatility. La Niña will give you that volatility."