ACHRNEWS

The Weather Forecast for 2006?

March 27, 2006
In the days after the official start of spring 2006, it is not unusual for weather-dependent businesses to start turning to long-range forecasts to get some idea of what the summer has in store. After all, the generally mild previous winter did not exactly send the cash registers into overdrive.

In fact, some weather reporting agencies said that the 2005-06 winter season was the mildest on record in Canada and one of five mildest winters on record in the United States. For many contractors, those are statistics that are cause for alarm as North America heads into summer 2006. Some contractors plan for a busy summer regardless of the forecasts, while others prefer to have a long range forecast to shape their planning.

"Weather forecasting is important with respect to the energy markets and the impact on futures pricing," said Chuck Blythe, business development executive for Comfort Systems USA.

"Although the data can be used for predicting quarterly energy budgets, short-term (weekly) forecasts can be used to make strategic business decisions regarding EMS scheduling, utility capacity, and HVAC service needs."

So, based on two popular weather-reporting agencies there will be either smiles or frowns across the faces of HVAC contractors in 2006. And still others will pay a little extra just to know what expression will dominate their facial muscles this year.

Two recognizable sources, World Climate Service and Farmers Almanac, give somewhat differing points of view while a third, Planalytics, keeps its information under wraps for paying members who want more than just a weather forecast.

FIRST, THE GOOD NEWS

The World Climate Service (WCS) (www.worldclimateservice.com), whose motto is "If you knew then what we knew then...", predicts generally warm conditions for the United States into early summer. In its March 17 press release, WCS stated:

"The unusually warm conditions that dominated North America in the winter and early spring will continue into the late spring and early summer. The new WCS forecast issued at midmonth and two other major computer seasonal forecasts agree in foreseeing above normal temperatures over much of the United States during April through June with cooler than normal conditions present only in the Pacific Northwest."

The report also noted that, "Warm and dry conditions are likely to continue in the Southwest and South Central United States, and the probabilities of the warm conditions extending into the Southeast as summer begins are quite high. The dry, windy conditions driving wild fires in the South Central United States will thus continue and it is likely that these conditions will move farther west into New Mexico and Arizona.

"The persistent dry conditions across the Southern states will contribute to both warmer than normal and drier than normal conditions in the Central Plains, the Midwest, and the Mid-Atlantic states. A boundary between these warm conditions and somewhat cooler conditions along the northern tier of states may lead to a sequence of moisture-starved storms in the Northern Plains and Great Lakes regions."

Using that long-range forecast, most of North America, with the exception of the Pacific Northwest, should plan for a warm summer. Warmer than the summer of 2005? That would be a tough task to repeat. According to the National Climatic Data Center, 2005 was the 13th warmest year on record for the United States with a nationally averaged temperature of 54°F, which was 1.2° above normal (based on an 1895-2004 mean).

NEWS' Contractor Consultant Aaron York said that technology makes short-term forecasting more accurate, but long-term is still too unpredictable.

"The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has become more astute in predicting what the future might hold," he said. "Satellite imagery along with wind currents, ocean tidal currents, water temperatures, etc. has made for a more accurate science of weather prognostication - except in Florida where they can't even be accurate for 12 hours!"

THE MIXED BAG OF NEWS

The Farmer's Almanac (www.almanac.com), which has been a staple in the weather forecasting business since 1792, has a mixed bag of weather forecasts for summer 2006.

Here are excerpts from its forecast. "April and May will be cooler than normal in most of the country. June through August will be cooler than normal from the Heartland into the Southeast, and hotter than normal in most other areas.

"September and October will be warmer than normal in the Pacific Southwest and from the Lower Great Lakes eastward to the Northeast and southward into Florida and cooler than normal in most other areas."

Farmer's Almanac predicts that regions like the Northeast, Atlantic Corridor, and Pacific Southwest will experience hotter than normal weather from mid-July to late August. Yet the Lower Great Lakes, Ohio Valley, and Texas/Oklahoma regions will be below normal. That means that contractors in Augusta (Maine), Philadelphia, and Los Angeles will be happy and contractors in Indianapolis, Charleston (W.V.), and Dallas will be frowning - if they believe the decades-old Farmer's Almanac.

One New York City contractor, John Murphy, said he has never used long-range forecasting, preferring to keep an ensured customer based with service contracts. He added, "People who live in New York City know it is going to be hot and humid."

PAYING FOR ASSURANCE

Planalytics (www.planalytics.com) is a service that goes beyond long-range weather forecasting. The company integrates weather forecasting into a service that helps businesses address the impact of weather on their businesses. Consumer behavior, including spending habits, is often affected by weather patterns. That's nothing new to HVAC contractors, but being able to understand the impact of the weather on a business has become more of a science than simply using a crystal ball to predict the fortunes of a company.

According to Timothy Shine, Planalytics vice president of business development, his company analyzes weather statistics and forecasts to "plan changes in supply, demand, and prices of products and services." But he wouldn't go so far as to predict what the summer 2006 weather will be. "That would make the people who pay for our services pretty angry," he noted.

Amy Brackin, Planalytics marketing director, said a number of her clients are HVAC contractors who want to know how weather impacts their planning.

"Planalytics' business weather intelligence provides businesses of all sizes the information they need to understand weather's influence on their customers and how that translates into bottom line profitability," she said.

"Knowing how the upcoming season will differ from last year enables better resource and budgetary planning.

"Planalytics' also provides the tools needed to make better business decisions tomorrow, next month or even next season in areas such as labor scheduling, inventory management, and seasonal capacity planning."

NEWS' Contractor Consultant Dave Dombrowski said his company has used Planalytics in the past. "I used them in marketing planning to broad brush schedule ad needs according to weather trends," he said. "We would try to match manpower to projections, but quite frankly it provided an awareness to business planning more than predicting based on forecasts."

Current Planalytics customer David Kesterton, president of Mingledorff's Distributors in Norcross, Ga., said, "Through their Website, we are able to obtain seasonal forecast on a weekly basis at least 6 months in advance. All forecast information is presented in weekly increments. We are able to use this information to adjust our advertising and promotion programs to coincide with more advantageous weather patterns."

For more information on weather forecasting/data, Blythe recommended the following Websites:

  • www.noaa.gov (forecasting)
  • www.wunderground.com (current & historical data)
  • www.intellicast.com (current data, and used by the Federal Aviation Administration).

    Publication date: 03/27/2006