What to expect for winter weather

Duke Energy meteorologists monitor weather patterns, look for trends, signs of trouble

For much of Duke Energy’s territory, fall has been unusually warm, even though the Carolinas got a preview of winter with a snowstorm Dec. 9. Is that an omen of the winter to come?

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Max Thompson

“From what we’re seeing,” said Duke Energy senior meteorologist Max Thompson, “it looks like we will experience a winter similar to last year, although a bit colder. And February could be even colder than January, when compared to normal, in many places over the eastern United States.”

Duke Energy employs a group of meteorologists to monitor severe weather and potential disruptions to the electric service the company provides in six states in the Southeast and Midwest. Worker and customer safety is the first priority.

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He is expecting colder-than-average temperatures, but those won’t likely kick in until 2019. It’s a classic El Nino pattern. “The expectation is for a weak-to-moderate El Nino to emerge in the equatorial Pacific that will have a major impact on our winter outlook.” Typically, El Nino events feature a warm start to winters with colder anomalies coming in January and February.  

There’s a chance a polar vortex – a naturally occurring phenomenon involving a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding Earth’s two poles – may lead to very cold spells. Predictions call for a weak polar vortex when analyzing Arctic sea ice and Siberian snow cover.

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What, you might ask, does Siberia have to do with the Southeast and Midwest? A weak vortex is actually favorable for extreme cold shots during the winter months – even in Florida, which is the territory Thompson is charged with monitoring.

“That means a possibility of higher energy usage and higher heating bills,” Thompson said.

As for the question on everyone’s mind this time of year (about snow!), dry to seasonal conditions are expected for the Ohio Valley and Northeast, while wetter conditions in the Southeast.

Thompson, who’s been interested in the weather since he was 10 or 11, admits to getting a little excited when he first sees extreme weather forming. That feeling quickly turns to “apprehension and concern,” he said. “We want to report the forecast with accuracy. We want our customers to be safe.”

Hot tips for saving energy during cold weather 

  • Use Duke Energy’s online calculator to estimate your heating bill and avoid a high energy bill surprise.
  • The best way to avoid billing surprises is to track your use. Duke Energy customers who have a smart meter can sign up for a Usage Alert. Similar to data alerts you get from your cellphone company, you can set a budget amount for your monthly energy bill and receive notices when you are approaching your limit.
  • Have your heating system inspected regularly by a professional.
  • Install a programmable thermostat to maximize your energy savings.
  • Lower your thermostat to the lowest comfortable setting when at home and down a degree or two when you leave. If you have a heat pump, set the thermostat and leave it. Lowering it may cause the auxiliary heat to turn on, which is inefficient and expensive.
  • Change or clean your furnace filters each month. A dirty air filter makes a heating system work harder, which uses more energy.
  • Seal leaks around doors and windows with caulk or weatherstripping to reduce drafts.
  • Leave drapes or blinds open during sunny days to allow the sun to warm the house. Close them at night.
  • Operate ceiling fans in a clockwise direction, which pushes warm air back down into the room.