Prepare for a Cold One

Lay in extra wood, coal and corn fuel stocks: winter's going to be a chiller. By John Vogel

If you believe in weather forecasters, we're in for a colder than normal winter – assuming we know what normal weather is. According to October's forecast from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, this winter will 4% colder than last winter – but 2% warmer than the 30-year average.

The Farmer's Almanac even agrees – sort of. According to the almanac, this winter will have two faces, split by the Mississippi. East of the Big Muddy, winter is projected to be colder and wetter (more snow). Points westward, winter may be milder than normal with near or below normal precipitation.

The Energy Information Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Energy, pegs its fuel predictions on NOAA's call. And as EIA Administrator Guy Caruso reported at the recent Winter Fuels Outlook Conference, all space-heating fuels will cost more this winter than last. And heating bills will run higher.

Average winter-season prices and expenditures for all space-heating fuels are projected to be higher than last winter, according to Caruso. Check on the projections for your fuel and region by clicking on this link: (Winter Fuels Expenditures Table).

Here's a quick look at expected average prices compared to year-ago rates:

Residential natural gas: Up 6%, averaging $13.14 per thousand cubic feet, but 9% higher in the South, 8% higher in the Mid West, only 2% higher in the West.

Heating oil: Up 16%, averaging $2.88 a gallon, nationwide; ranging from 13.2% higher in the West to 19.2% higher in the South.

Propane: Up 13%, averaging $2.28 per gallon, nationwide; ranging from 13 to 15% higher due to low inventories, except in the West where rates will average only 8% higher.

Residential electricity: Up 2%, averaging 10.3 cents per kilowatthour; but 3% higher in the Northeast and 3.7% higher in the West.

Assuming a colder than normal winter, the average home will cost $78 more to heat with natural gas due to higher consumption. Those heated primarily with heating oil will pay about $319 more.

Propane-heated homes can expect to pay about $221 more this winter this winter than last. Electric heating bills will average $32 more before March is over.

Have alternative heating systems that burn lower-cost fuels? Be ready to stoke them when temperatures turn frigid.

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