Possibly the biggest factor effecting your electric bill is the weather. It not only directly influences how much electricity you use to heat or cool your home but also effects the demand, supply, and ultimately the price of energy on the wholesale markets. In our What’s the Weather? series, we’ll track weather forecasts and events to see how they impact your energy bills and how that information can help you save.
Winter Is…Um, Not Here Yet
The arrival of autumnal equinox usually brings the second half of the Atlantic hurricane season; when the origins of tropical cyclones shifts from Cape Verde to the Caribbean. The 2017 hurricane season has so far been the first ever recorded where three Atlantic hurricanes of Category 4 or greater struck the United States or one of its territories. And it’s not over, yet. As of this writing on October 5, Tropical Storm Nate is moving northwards off the coast of Honduras and is predicted to hit Louisiana by Saturday as at least a Category 1 hurricane. Afterwards, it’s forecast to head north over the Appalachians into Pennsylvania and New York as a tropical depression.
The Remaining Hurricane Season
The first half of the hurricane season has seen stronger winds blowing off Africa westwards while wind shearing that tears storms apart has been weaker than average. Even though it’s early October, there’s still LOTS of warm ocean water out there in the Atlantic and especially in the Caribbean where Nate has originated. Hurricane Sandy formed in this area of the Caribbean in late October, 2012.
So, while hurricane activity typically trails off until the season ends on November 30, there’s reason to be wary that the storm activity may well continue until that date.
The Big Chill in the Pacific
Meanwhile, out in the Niño 3.4 region of the Pacific where signs of El Niños are monitored, sea surface temperatures were being recorded right at the predicted neutral. But way down underwater at about 150 meters, researchers were detecting bubbles (or “blobs,” depending on who you ask) of colder water expanding eastward. Thought to be up-welling Kelvin Waves, the bubbles herald the emergence of a La Niña (the cold water phase of the ENSO cycle that begins in November and strengthens through December).
According to NOAA “La Niña conditions” exist when “a one-month negative sea surface temperature anomaly of -0.5C or less is observed in the Niño-3.4 region of the equatorial Pacific Ocean.”
Based on their data, NOAA concludes “a 62 percent chance of La Niña development during November-December-January 2017-18.”
Winter Lookout So Far
The thinking goes that weather effects on the U.S. from the transition from ENSO Neutral to La Niña won’t manifest until after the end of the year. Typically during a La Niña winter, a blocking high pressure ridge will fall into place in the northern Pacific near Alaska. This tends to bring colder and stormier weather to the northern plains state, the upper Mississippi Valley, and states north of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. Depending on the wobbliness of the Polar Vortex, there could also be incursions of extreme cold.
At that time, there will be an increase in precipitation in the Ohio Valley and the above average temperatures will begin retreating southwards from New England, the Mid Atlantic States, and the upper Mississippi Valley at the beginning of the New Year. The southwest, Texas, and the southeastern states can expect warm but drier than normal conditions.
While cold weather will close in, there might be some drought relief for the Ohio Valley and perhaps the parched parts of the upper Mississippi Valley. But conditions may worsen for parts of Texas that are already stressed , such as the northeastern counties and the southern reaches of the state around Brownsville and McAllen.
What About My Fall and Winter Energy Bill?
On the whole, it looks like this year’s holiday weather gift might come in the form of above-average temperatures for the northern states through the end of December. But come New Year’s Day when the La Niña really begins exerting its influence on our weather, that’s when we’ll likely have real winter weather.
The good news is that there’s lots of time to prepare. Weather-proof your home by adding more insulation and weatherstripping doors and windows, and check out the helpful how-to articles in our Live Brighter Blog and our Learning Center. Now is also a good time to get your home heating systems inspected before you really, really need them.
Lastly, late fall is also one of the best times to shop for a new electricity plan with a longer term at a lower rate. By securing a low rate now, you can enjoy low, predictable rates that will help you save money.