A month on pace to become the coldest in 10 years has pushed many local heating bills to the limit — and winter is less than half over.
South Jersey also had to dig out from another round of snow, as 7.3 inches fell Tuesday into Wednesday at Atlantic City International Airport. The combined 18.8 inches that have fallen in January make this the snowiest month in Atlantic City since a blizzard dumped 20.4 inches in December 2010, according to the National Weather Service.
Other South Jersey counties also saw several inches overnight: About 7 in Cape May County, an average of 5 in Cumberland and 2 to 4 inches in Ocean.
A high temperature of 20 degrees Wednesday and a low of 11 keep January on pace to be coldest month since January 2004, which had an average temperature of 26.8 degrees.
The average temperature for this month so far is 28.8, and today may reach the record low of 5 degrees set in 2000 before a warming spell begins Friday.
The reason for the cold? Besides the “polar vortex,” which brought arctic air to the region for several days earlier this month, much of the frigid weather is due to cold air “lingering” a lot longer than normal, National Weather Service meteorologist Patrick O’Hara said.
“Cold air is coming down from central Canada over the eastern part of the (U.S.) and it stops,” O’Hara said. “And there’s usually storms moving along the periphery, which brings snow. Usually, we only see short, brief introductions of cold air, and when systems come by, they’re mostly rain.”
All of this comes after a number of near-average or mild winters. They include the so-called “year without a winter” of 2011-12, which saw average temperatures five to six degrees above normal from December through February and just 4.3 inches of snow the entire winter.
The coldest average high that season was 48.9 degrees in January, with average highs in the 50s or 60s in the other winter months and temperatures reaching the upper 60s in both January and February 2012.
News stories from that winter show families enjoying a day on the beach in sunny March.
It was part of a stretch that saw eight straight winter months with above-average temperatures from February 2011 to January 2013. But that also came after three blizzards in 13 months from 2009 to 2010.
So can South Jersey hope to see milder winters cycle back again?
“It’s tough to say,” O’Hara said. “Last year, we thought that was a bad winter — and it turned out that wasn’t so bad. This one really got us.”
It has certainly gotten to locals in their pocketbooks and wallets.
In the Northeast, records show that there was already an increase in natural gas usage in December of 3.3 percent over the previous year, said Amy Sweeney of the U.S. Energy Information Administration. “And that’s expected to climb because of a really cold January,” she said.
Prices for natural gas had increased by 17.3 percent over last year in the Northeast, she added. The largest withdrawal of natural gas from storage was a few weeks ago, during the polar vortex.
Usage and prices for electricity are also up by about 2 percent in the Northeast, the EIA reports.
At Deli-on-the-Square in Pleasantville, employee Maria Petruzzi said that the average electric bill for her electrically heated apartment in Egg Harbor Township has been about $300 to $500 per month, compared to between $275 and $375 last year.
And while prices have dropped for oil heat even as consumption is up over last year, she did not believe it would be better.
“We actually turned down a house with four bedrooms at $1,200 a month because that (didn’t include) oil heat, and oil’s going to run you $450 to $600 a month with electricity on top. So the rent is $300 to $400 below value on purpose.”
As for Lori Hernandez, of Egg Harbor Township, she praised her conversion from oil to propane heat — which saw a 6.5 price increase in the Northeast over last year but still remains the cheapest heating option by the gallon, at $3.20 compared to natural gas at $13.35 and oil at $3.77.
“I’ve saved $100 a month on average over the whole year,” Hernandez said, adding that the loan payments on her brand-new heater and propane payments combined are less than what she had paid for oil heat.
Meanwhile, residents dealt Wednesday with a surprising amount of snow that fell on the area, which, while more than predicted, was at least soft and fluffy.
“I’m 73 and I’m shoveling snow,” said Beverly Nelson, of Egg Harbor Township’s West Atlantic City section. “I got snowed in by the plow.”
As she worked on her driveway, neighbors could be seen on Florence Avenue and along Bay Drive blowing or shoveling the snow.
Across the road, the frozen bay leading to the Yacht Club of Pleasantville looked like a mirror reflection of the roads. A layer of snow rested on top of the thin ice, making it resemble a stretch of land.
“It does look like (land),” Nelson said, “but that ice is thin.”
Staff writer Anjalee Khemlani contributed to this report.
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