NEW YORK (Reuters) - Temperatures across much of the northern half of the United States will be colder than normal during the first quarter, private forecaster Weather Services International said on Wednesday.

"After another unusually warm December across much of the U.S., the pattern is now transitioning to a more normal winter look," WSI chief meteorologist Dr. Todd Crawford said in a release.

The private forecaster also said that above-normal temperatures will likely dominate the southern half of the nation, especially the Southwest, during that period.

In January, WSI expects the Northeast (except northern New England), North Central and Northwest regions to see mostly colder than normal temperatures. Readings in southern tier states are expected to average warmer than normal.

In the release, Chris Kostas, a senior gas analyst at Energy Security Analysis Inc, said natural gas prices were likely to firm during the coldest periods in January, with New England and portions of northern New York possibly experiencing very sharp price spikes due to pipeline congestion.

But he said robust supplies from high inventories and strong shale production were likely to limit price strength.

In February, WSI forecasts colder than normal temperatures for the Northeast and North Central regions, with warmer readings expected across the southern tier and in the Northwest.

WSI expects warmer than normal temperatures to dominate most of the nation in March, except in the Northwest, which could see colder than normal readings.

The WSI seasonal outlooks reference a standard 30-year normal from 1981-2010.

(Reporting by Joe Silha; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)




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