Natural gas consumption climbs in frozen East, slides in Western warmth

AccuWeather says that, while natural gas consumption has remained relatively steady across the US from the start of the new year to late February, there has been a noticeable difference between the eastern and western US due to the ongoing deep freeze in the East and the warmth surging across the West.

The frigid air that has gripped much of the eastern US from Jan. 1 to Feb. 20 helped to boost natural gas consumption 4% over last year for the Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest, according to a recent update from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

"Since the start of the year, record cold temperatures and significant snowfall have occurred in the eastern half of the country," the EIA reported. "Long-standing temperature records tumbled east of the Rockies, and cumulative heating degree days from Jan. 1 through Feb. 20 equaled 2,220, 11% more than normal."

A heating degree day is a measure of how cold a location is over a period of time relative to a base temperature, most commonly 65°F. In order to determine the average for the day, the sum of the maximum temperature and lowest temperature of the day is divided by two and compared to the base temperature, said Dave Dombek, meteorologist. Heating degree days are used in energy analysis as an indicator of space heating energy requirements or use, according to the EIA.

Though it is unusual for a polar vortex to play a major role in two consecutive winters, the polar vortex has had a greater influence than usual for the 2014-2015 winter season, bringing record cold to the Midwest and East yet again. A polar vortex is a large pocket of very cold air, which sits over the polar region much of the winter but is occasionally pushed down into Canada and the US.

This year, due to the increased arctic air, record low temperatures were shattered in Chicago, New York City, and from Washington, DC, to Orlando, Florida. AccuWeather's winter forecast, which was released in October, pinpointed the return of brutal cold for these areas months in advance.

The polar vortex played a role in several key events this winter, including the late-January blizzard that impacted much of New England and the severe cold prevalent throughout the Northeast in February. While residents in the East battled against the arctic chill and relentless snow and ice, much of the western US saw warmer weather than usual. Areas of the Pacific Northwest had the early signs of spring in late February as cherry blossoms began to bloom weeks early in parts of Vancouver, British Columbia, and in Seattle.

"Seven states have reported average temperatures for the month of January in the top 10 warmest on record, with cumulative [heating degree days] since the beginning of the year totaling 922, 25% under normal," the EIA reported. The states include California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Natural gas consumption was also down by 9% compared to last year for the Northwest, Southwest, and Rockies, the EIA reported. The West Coast has suffered in a different way this winter, with a significant dry period in the middle of winter book-ended by stormier weather.



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