Looks like a potentially market-roiling La Niña will last through the new year, threatening to bring a colder, snowier winter to the northern U.S., drought to Latin America’s soybean-growing regions and rain to Australia’s coal mines.
The odds of the weather phenomenon, characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Pacific, lasting through February are 92 percent, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said Thursday. That’s up from 73 percent just a month ago. The center said the pattern will probably fade in mid- to late-spring.
The kind of weather La Niña tends to bring could spur a rally for heating fuels including natural gas and electricity and for commodities from corn to soybeans to coal. Wheat-rich Argentina has already been dealing with drier weather, and forecasters including World Weather Inc. have raised La Niña as an even bigger threat later this month. The operator of America’s largest power market has warned of the coldest winter in at least three years because of the phenomenon, and gas bulls have been holding out hope for frigid temperatures.
“La Niña is predicted to persist through the Northern Hemisphere winter by nearly all models,” according to the Climate Prediction Center outlook issued Thursday. “Forecasters favor the peak of a weak-to-moderate La Niña during the winter.”
While states in the northern half of the U.S. could get colder, the South may be warmer and dryer than usual.
A U.S. study of November weather conditions across the U.S. show La Niña’s impact already taking hold, perfectly matching the typical conditions of the phenomenon, said Michelle L’Heureux, a forecaster with the Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. It was “just a one-month map, and it was strikingly La Niña-like,” she said by telephone.
The first part of December brought some unexpected weather, however, with record snowfalls and frigid temperatures plaguing the U.S. South. This was probably the result of another, shorter-lived weather phenomenon called the Madden Julian Oscillation, L’Heureux said.
Once the Madden Julian Oscillation fades, a more predictable pattern of cold in the Pacific Northwest to the Great Lakes and milder weather across the South and Mid-Atlantic states will return, she said.
The pattern is set to be “a skier’s delight over the northern U.S.,” according to a blog post by Stephen Baxter, a Climate Prediction Center meteorologist. Weaker events tend to bring more snow in the Pacific Northwest, northern Rocky Mountains and northern New England, based on an analysis of data from the Rutgers University Global Snow Lab, he said.
It’s harder to predict what La Niña means for New York and Boston because they’re at the edge of where the snow typically falls. The fate of that region will probably hinge on where the rain-snow line forms during every winter storm that strikes.
The recent deluge of rain in Argentina could offset the impacts of La Niña on crops by leaving enough water reserves to keep up yields this season. But JPMorgan Chase & Co. has already forecast higher prices and volatility due in part to La Niña that, it said, will help to curb the recent multi-year gain in global corn and wheat yields.
The phenomenon could offer natural gas bulls some relief, too. Gas futures plunged earlier this week to the lowest settlement in 10 months on mild temperature forecasts. Volatility for next-month contracts has rebounded to the highest levels since February amid uncertainty in weather outlooks.