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Money Can't Buy Me . . . Heat

Steve Scolnik @ 4:35 PM

Most of the country except for the West Coast is dry today as the energy from the jet stream over the Pacific is being focused into a very deep (963 mb this afternoon) low in the Gulf of Alaska. The graphic, from Unisys, shows the height of the 500 mb surface (approximately the middle of the atmosphere) in color and the isobars of surface pressure as solid lines. Note the strong northward trend of both the heights and pressure along the coast of the Pacific Northwest.

Here in the Washington DC metro area, temperatures this afternoon are similar to yesterday's, near 40°, but it's much drier. Dewpoints in the low single digits are producing relative humidities near 20%. Along with clear skies and light winds, this should allow lows tonight to plunge.

The prospects for a snowy Christmas in much of the eastern U.S. are looking dim. There are still over 20 more model cycles to go before the event, but the forecast from this morning's model run shows a rain/snow line north of Boston and Buffalo by Christmas night.

Tonight and Tomorrow

Lows tonight will be in the low 20s in the city to as low as the low teens in the colder outlying valleys. Tomorrow will again be sunny with highs in the upper 30s.

Energy Watch

That jangling sound you hear is not from the cash registers at the nearest mall, but your gas meter signaling a whopping December bill. As of yesterday, heating degree days (amount by which the daily average temperature is below 65°) for December were 30% above normal. This compares with last year's total which was within about 1% of normal. Although they are currently very volatile, natural gas prices have also jumped. They finished last week down about 5% and off 10% from the record high of $15 per million BTU, but the Washington Gas "purchased gas cost" (the variable part of your gas bill) is up 47% from last December.

The good news is that your December bill won't be up the full 92% from the combined price and temperature effects. There are some fixed costs which limit the increase. The distribution charge is based on usage but not gas cost, and the amount of consumption from hot water heating is not significantly affected by temperature. Also, depending on your meter reading date, some of the impact of the December cold may be postponed until the January bill (when, of course, rates could be even higher).

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