February 14, 2020 / 1:08 PM / 3 days ago

Column: Fuel consumption sinks on record warmth across northern hemisphere

LONDON (Reuters) - Last month was the warmest January on record across the northern hemisphere, sending demand for heating oil, natural gas and coal plunging in all the major consumption centres of the world.

An aerial view shows the newly arrived foundation platform of Leviathan natural gas field, in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Haifa, Israel January 31, 2019. Marc Israel Sellem/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Land surface temperatures across the hemisphere were 2.44 degrees Celsius above the average for the same month between 1901 and 2000, the largest positive anomaly for at least 140 years.

(Chartbook: tmsnrt.rs/2uzg6tX)

Temperatures were well above the long-term average simultaneously throughout Europe (+3.16 degrees), North America (+2.12 degrees) and Asia (+3.46 degrees), according to the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information.

The unusually warm January followed a warm December (the second warmest on record) and a mild November (the 11th warmest on record), effectively eliminating the first half of the winter heating season.

As a result, hemispheric temperatures were 1.84 degrees Celsius above the long-term seasonal average for the three months between November and January, which was also the warmest on record (“Climate at a glance”, NCEI, Feb. 13).

The massive and widespread warm anomaly has cut fuel consumption in all the major centres by probably the largest weather-driven amount in history.

Coupled with a global economy that is still sluggish after the U.S./China trade war, and is now hit by a coronavirus-driven downturn, the warm winter has worsened the existing oversupply of oil, gas and coal.

Largely in consequence, benchmark Brent futures prices are down 7% since the end of October while U.S. natural gas futures prices have fallen by 31%.

John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own.

Related columns:

- Warm U.S. winter puts coal-fired power plants in deep freeze (Reuters, Feb. 6)

- Mild winter sends U.S. natural gas prices tumbling (Reuters, Jan. 10)

Editing by David Evans

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