NEW YORK (Reuters) - Long-range weather forecasts are predicting a warmer than average winter with less precipitation for much of the United States except the Pacific Northwest.
"It will be a lot like last year but the climate models are even more in agreement now than they were last fall," said Mike Halpert, head of forecast operations at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center.
"Temperatures will be warmer than average in most places except the northwest of the country, which could see some cold."
Forecasters believe the emergence of a La Nina condition -- unusually cold ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean -- will be the main factor behind the anticipated warmth for much of North America.
"Computer models that simulate La Nina conditions have come up with an overwhelming consensus of above-normal warmth for a large part of the (energy) consuming east and back into the southern Rockies," said Jim Rouiller, senior energy weather forecaster at Planalytics in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
The forecast warmth could come as a relief to heating oil consumers who are facing higher prices with crude oil trading above $80 per barrel and lower fuel inventories. Distillate fuel stocks, which include heating oil, are 13 million barrels lower than last year, according to U.S. government data.
Private weather forecaster WSI Corp warned last week that while temperatures in the Northeastern United States, home to the world's largest heating oil market, may be cooler than normal in October, the chill was unlikely to last long enough to deplete burgeoning natural gas inventories.
"Typically, in the eastern U.S., La Nina means a warm October and a cold December," WSI forecaster Todd Crawford said, but added that cold ocean temperatures in the northern Pacific indicate a colder October than would normally be forecast.
U.S. natural gas inventories grew by 57 billion cubic feet in the week to September 28, the U.S. government reported Thursday. The increase was less than had been expected by analysts, but overall stocks are 7.5 percent above the five-year average for this time of year.
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