Filed Under:Risk Management, Weather Risk

Winter is back in America and here to stay for a little while

A pedestrian walks through steam venting from a sewer grate on a cold winter morning on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Albany, N.Y. The first cold snap of the season is bringing bone-chilling temperatures to the Albany area. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
A pedestrian walks through steam venting from a sewer grate on a cold winter morning on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Albany, N.Y. The first cold snap of the season is bringing bone-chilling temperatures to the Albany area. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

(Bloomberg) -- We all got used to it: a warm December from Chicago to New York and even on up into Boston.

Flowers blooming, birds singing — it could have been the start of spring. And then, slap! Temperatures fell into the teens on the Fahrenheit scale in Manhattan’s Central Park and elsewhere around the Northeast. That’s negative territory on the Celsius scale. Ice started to form on puddles and ponds and a little snow fell here and there.

“It’s a period of back to normal,” said Brian Hurley, a senior branch forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

The few days since the start of 2016 have felt so bitter, yet for a large part of the eastern U.S. the cold is just pretty typical for this time of year.

The East Coast has been spoiled.

Milder cold

The cold hasn’t been that extreme. Through Tuesday, the average temperature for January was just over a degree below normal in Central Park and not quite a full degree in Philadelphia, National Weather Service said. In Boston and Chicago, the average readings are still just above normal.

If the statistics don’t convince you, then take a look at the best measure of cold nature has produced — natural gas traders. The moans you hear aren’t frigid winds whistling through the trees, they come from traders who realized thermostats that were cranked to warm homes and businesses weren’t going to stay turned up.

There won’t be an extended rally for prices that reached a 16-year low in December.

Temperatures in the eastern U.S. and Canada are forecast to moderate through the weekend. New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington will all reach the 50s (about 12-13 Celsius) by Sunday, the National Weather Service said. Toronto could make it into the 40s, while Montreal and Ottawa linger above freezing, according to Environment Canada.

Another shot

This doesn’t mean a return to December’s spring-like conditions. The models suggest the cold will make another stab into the heart of Canada and the U.S., including Chicago, next week.

Hurley said that’s also when computer models expect the Arctic Oscillation to peak in the negative part of its cycle. What this essentially means is that the Arctic’s cold gets dislodged from the North Pole and floods down into the U.S.

Even then, it won’t be the frigid blast that energy traders would like to see to help use up inventories.

“I would still call it seasonable,” Hurley said.

Related: Snow, ice and frozen pipes: Are you covered? The 6 things every homeowner needs to know

The chill will be arriving according to schedule. From Iowa to Maine, the coldest day of the year arrives sometime in the next three weeks, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina.

The cold may linger through the rest of the month, flirting with mild readings or hovering around normal. It is winter, after all.

Outlook hazy

For the next 30 to 60 days, the outlook gets a little hazy, Hurley said. An El Nino that has contributed to flooding in California and snowstorms in Texas is still under way in the equatorial Pacific and that often means milder winters in the northern U.S.

Sustaining cold as in the past two winters “is harder to do,” Hurley said.

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