As winter approaches, many of us brace ourselves for the inevitable spike in electric bills accompanying the colder months. However, ongoing climate change and natural phenomenons such as El Niño can have an added impact on energy usage and prices. In this blog, we will explore the irregularly occurring weather caused by El Niño, its impact on winter temperatures, and how it might affect electric bills.
Start Saving Money this Winter with Payless Power’s Prepaid Or Traditional Electricity Plans
What is El Niño?
El Niño is a climate pattern characterized by the periodic warming of sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. This phenomenon occurs every two to seven years and has far-reaching effects on weather patterns worldwide. El Niño events typically bring warmer and wetter conditions to some regions and drier conditions to others, leading to a domino effect on various aspects of daily life.
The impact of El Niño on winter weather patterns is a significant factor influencing electric bills, especially in regions like the southern United States. Since 1818, the Farmers’ Almanac has been recording and tracking weather patterns using a “secret” formula developed by its first editor, David Young. For winter 2023, The Farmers’ Almanac forecasts an “unseasonably cold and stormy winter in January and February.” for the Lone Star State. It also indicated a possible—third!—major storm that could take place in Texas in January 2024. But the Farmers’ Almanac isn’t foolproof—a 2010 study found its predictions were correct roughly half the time (source).
Impact on Winter Temperatures:
Recent guidance suggests 99% certainty of El Niño from December 2023 through February 2024. It won’t just be a regular El Niño either. There is a 60% odds it will be a “strong” El Niño. The stronger the El Niño, the more likely its effects will occur, not that those effects would be “worse.” (source)
Positive Effects of El Nino
- Fewer hurricanes and other tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic
- Milder winters in southern Canada and the northern continental United States.
- Replenishment of water supplies in the southwestern U.S.
- Less disease in some areas due to drier weather (like malaria in southeastern Africa)
Adverse Effects of El Nino
- Fires, Drought and Flooding
- Crop failure and crash of fisheries associated with food insecurity
- Insect population explosion leading to disease
- Economic changes in the price of heating (source)
During an El Niño winter, certain regions experience milder temperatures than usual. Warmer winters mean less reliance on heating systems, decreasing energy consumption for space heating. This can initially seem like good news for homeowners, as it suggests lower heating costs. However, the story doesn’t end there. It’s hard to predict the impact of winter weather and the increase or decrease of electricity usage because of two competing weather factors: climate change and El Niño.
Climate Change and El Nino
As climate change continues, Texas is experiencing a gradual warming trend. Nielsen-Gammon, Professor of Meteorology at Texas A&M University and the Texas State Climatologist since 2000, notes that winters in the state are generally getting warmer, with extreme cold air outbreaks becoming less severe.
“This year is a very unique year,” Nielsen-Gammon said — but not just because of El Niño. “If you look at the entire ocean, the global oceans are warming up significantly. We have never seen that kind of warm ocean in recorded history.”
Climate change and El Niño have pushed the temperatures of global sea surfaces to hit record levels this year, according to a NASA post titled “The Ocean Has a Fever.”
Some Texan’s might be thinking that the winter storms of the past two years means that winters are getting colder, but that’s not true. “The coldest temperatures in Texas have gotten warmer, so winters have gotten milder over time,” said Ramalingam Saravanan, the department head of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University (source).
With the increasing unpredictability of weather due to climate change, residents should remain vigilant and prepared for unexpected shifts from one extreme to another.
Shift in Precipitation Patterns:
El Niño often leads to shifts in precipitation patterns, causing increased rainfall and storms in some areas while leaving others unusually dry. This can result in higher humidity levels in regions experiencing increased precipitation. In turn, higher humidity can make it feel colder, even at relatively moderate temperatures. As a response, individuals may turn up the thermostat to compensate for the perceived chilliness, inadvertently raising energy consumption.
John Nielsen-Gammon explains, “Typically, El Niño ushers in wet and cool winters in Texas. So, there’s a decent chance that the current drought Texas is experiencing could be quenched — or, at least, improved.
Even though El Niño is likely to prompt a wet winter, “There’s still basically a 1 in 4 chance that the winter could end up being drier than normal,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “And that would be bad news because we’ve got to take advantage of El Niños when they come along (source).”
Fluctuations in Energy Prices:
El Niño can impact the demand for energy and its supply across the globe. Changes in weather patterns can affect the production and distribution of energy resources, leading to fluctuations in energy prices. Commodity prices could swing (source).
Extreme weather events associated with El Niño, such as storms and floods, may disrupt energy infrastructure and increase energy providers’ costs. Unfortunately, these costs are often passed on to consumers in the form of higher electric bills.
BloombergNEF anticipates that El Niño, if it persists, may result in lower gas demand in Asia and Europe, assuming El Niño weather patterns follow similar trends as the last ten years. It may also lead to worse typhoons and droughts, which will impact gas demand and delay liquefied natural gas cargo transits through key choke points, bringing more price volatility to the gas and LNG markets (source).
The Role of Air Conditioning:
While El Niño tends to bring warmer winters to some areas, it may also have contrasting effects on regions that typically experience milder temperatures during this season.
Warmer-than-average winters may lead to increased use of air conditioning systems, especially in places unaccustomed to dealing with higher temperatures during the colder months. This additional demand for cooling can significantly contribute to elevated electricity usage and, subsequently, higher bills.
In Texas, if the predictions are correct, and the state experiences unseasonable cold weather, then raising the heat in your home will also increase usage, leading to higher monthly bills.
3 Easy Ways to Save Money this Winter
- Adjust your water heater. 120 degrees provides plenty of hot water. To save even more, consider adding a hot water heater blanket, which is a layer of insulation that wraps around the hot water tank.
- Let the sunlight in. During the day, it is a great time to open curtains on the south-facing windows allowing sunlight to naturally heat the home. Make sure to close them at night to reduce the chill from cold windows.
- Use LED festive lights. Reduce the cost of decorating your home for the winter holidays by purchasing LED holiday lights. Bonus Tip: put your festive lights on a timer.
Learn More about Winter Energy Saving Tips
Understanding the relationship between El Niño and winter electric bills highlights the complexity of climate’s influence on our energy consumption patterns. While warmer temperatures may initially seem like a reprieve for the wallet, the interconnected factors at play can result in unexpected consequences.
As we navigate the challenges posed by climate variability, it becomes increasingly important for individuals and communities to implement energy-efficient practices and explore sustainable solutions all year long.