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US Fall Outlook: How Will Weather Shape Home Heating Costs?

United States residents may pay higher heating costs this fall as colder air is expected to grip the Rockies and Plains at times and some quick-hitting chilly shots may impact the Northeast. However, heating prices may be offset by higher inventories of propane and natural gas.

Winterlike conditions are expected in the Rockies and Plains, which could drive up costs, especially if there is a high demand for propane used by farmers for corn drying.

Some parts of the Rockies will be 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit below normal for the fall, AccuWeather.com Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok said.

AccuWeather's Fall 2014 forecast calls for some spells of chilly, unsettled weather across the Great Lakes and Northeast as early as mid-September.

"There will probably be big jumps at times, which can really make a difference on heating bills," Pastelok said.

However, overall fall temperatures will even out to be near to above normal for the Northeast. Milder weather is in store for the Northeast this November, especially compared to last year.

Residential electric costs are expected to drop for the rest of 2014 but creep upward in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its most recent Short-Term Energy Outlook.

Propane and natural gas inventories are higher than a year ago, the EIA reported.

El Niño may arrive by late summer into early fall and could play a factor in energy costs.

El Niño occurs when warmer-than-normal water pools across the central and eastern Pacific for more than three consecutive months.

In many cases, El Niño leads to a split jet stream in the late fall and winter, Pastelok said.

The northern jet stream tends to push Pacific air and above-normal temperatures into the West in this pattern, while keeping the polar vortex up near the pole, only occasionally slipping south and bringing chilly air to areas farther east. In a moderate to strong El Niño year, there are typically fewer chances for the polar vortex to be dislodged southward.

The jet stream is altered by the intensity of El Niño, Pastelok said, adding that it all depends on where the jet stream sets up.

Last winter, high propane prices, low inventories and logistical and infrastructure issues created emergency measures to deal with a propane shortage in the Midwest, the EIA said.

This year, inventories are building earlier but the EIA reported that infrastructure issues - pipelines and storage facilities - may impact the supply once again.

Propane is not only used for heating but also is used to dry crops including corn. Corn growers are expected to produce a record 14 billion bushels of corn in 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

Abundant domestic production and moderate natural gas demand to generate electricity because of the cooler summer have led to higher inventories going into the fall, the EIA reported.

As a result, natural gas prices have fallen to six-month lows, the EIA said.