A Cautionary Note to Natural Gas Traders as Arctic Air Can Return Quickly

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Fig. 1-3: Stratospheric warming/cooling areas over the next 15 days.

Discussion: The arctic outbreak prior to Christmas Day in the U.S. was caused by a unique set of circumstances. Normally, stratospheric warming at a high latitude is the trigger for arctic air development in the polar region which depending on the available low-level atmospheric trajectory can surge into the high population middle latitudes of North America or Eurasia.

However, the U.S. arctic outbreak prior to Christmas 2022 was triggered by stratospheric cooling over Alaska compensated for by a “ridge bridge” of warm high pressure aloft in the troposphere and stretching cross polar from Alaska to Siberia. At surface level, the high-pressure area inspired a cross-polar flow of Siberian arctic air into the downstream polar vortex making the outbreak unusually severe. The unique conditions were temporary and the arctic air outbreak, although potent and producing a plethora of life-threatening issues, was brief.

Widespread stratospheric cooling centered on the polar region during the past week or so caused erosion of the arctic air and produced a warm troposphere forcing anomalous warmth of which some is record strength across the U.S., Europe and China. As a result, there is a natural gas price collapse.

Similar to the stratospheric regime prior to the evolution of arctic air in North America in December, the periphery of the current cold stratospheric pattern has warming developing along the southern periphery most notable in Northeast Asia this week (Fig. 1). The stratospheric warming is expanding westward across Russia into next week (Fig. 2) and intensifies with two centers, one over Siberia and another over Europe in 15 days (Fig. 3).

The new area of stratospheric warming is forecast to produce new arctic air. The ECM ENS indicates the new arctic air mass develops over northwest and north portions of Russia in the 7-day forecast (Fig. 4) and is released southward while intensifying across Central and Western Russia to Kazakhstan in the 8-14-day period (Fig. 5).

Conclusion: Natural gas markets need to be extra cautious about the established precedent of stratospheric warming (and cooling) events working together to produce sudden arctic air generation. These episodes can occur quickly and are not necessarily well forecast in the medium/extended-range and certainly not in week 3-6 outlooks. A turbulent stratospheric thermal pattern is caused by interaction between the polar and tropical latitudes and also by conditions set in the high altitudes of the atmosphere by an increasingly active sun. Climate Impact Company is expecting another set of stratospheric circumstances triggering arctic air generation that will attack high population areas during the second half of winter 2022-23 favoring China, the U.S. and Europe (in that order). A mindset of low natural gas prices for the remainder of the winter season is not the correct strategy. Awareness of sudden extreme cold risk is paramount!

Fig. 4: New arctic air generation across Northern Russia this week.

Fig. 5: The air mass strengthens and explodes southward across Kazakhstan in the 8-14-day period. This fast-emerging scenario can easily occur later in January and February affecting China, the U.S. or Europe.