WASHINGTON -- Winter will blow in colder than usual in the Eastern United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts.
The news that the annual 90-day forecast calls for below-normal temperatures sent a shiver through the Northeast, where home heating fuel prices have risen steadily since the crisis in the Persian Gulf began.
"Our surveys show we're already entering the heating season with near-record prices for heating oil, so if this cold weather arrives, it will only compound the problem and exacerbate the hardship," said Gary Scheffer, a spokesman for the New York state energy office.
According to NOAA weather experts, the outlook suggests that after an unusually mild autumn in the East, temperatures will turn cold in December.
"Overall in 1990, there's been a warming spell . . . this [prediction] is breaking that spell," said Robert Livezey, head of the predictions branch in NOAA's climate analysis center.
A colder-than-normal forecast predicts temperatures an average of one or two degrees below normal -- but the average can include periods of intense cold, Livezey said.
Most of Florida is exempted from the colder-than-normal prediction, while the forecasters say the chances for "excessively cold weather" are as high as 70 percent in an area centered over the southern Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia.