(Reuters) – U.S. airlines on Wednesday made progress in getting operations back to normal after several days of storms and record cold weather forced cancelations of thousands of flights.
Airlines had canceled more than 1,000 flights on Wednesday, according to FlightAware.com data, down from 2,700 on Tuesday. Since Jan. 1, carriers have canceled more than 19,300 flights, FlightAware showed.
Among major U.S. carriers, Delta Air Lines had canceled four flights and Southwest Airlines had halted 37 as of early Wednesday, the data showed.
“The regional carriers are still the last to catch up today,” said Daniel Baker, chief executive of FlightAware.com. “I think things will be back to normal late today and by tomorrow.”
Record cold temperatures in the United States in recent days had hobbled airline operations, disabling equipment used to fuel planes.
JetBlue Airways, which resumed flights to four New York area and Boston airports on Tuesday after suspending operations in those locations Monday evening to reposition crew and planes, showed 13 cancellations early on the day Wednesday.
“It’s looking really good today,” JetBlue spokesman Anders Lindstrom said in an email. “Operations are back to being close to fully 100 percent operable.”
American Airlines had canceled just 50 flights early Wednesday, most of them with its American Eagle regional unit, spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said.
“The cold temperatures at many outstations are still making things challenging for Eagle,” Huguely added in an email.
PHOTOS: Deep Freeze 2014
Helane Becker, an airline analyst with Cowen & Co, estimated the recent weather events would hurt industry earnings by $50 million to $100 million in the first quarter.
Shares of airlines were mixed. JetBlue was up 0.3 percent to $8.71 in morning trading, and Delta rose 1.7 percent to $29.28. Southwest Airlines and United Continental were also higher, while American Airlines was off 0.1 percent at $26.88.
RECORD-SETTING COLD BLAMED IN AT LEAST 9 DEATHS
By Victoria Cavaliere and Brendan O’Brien
NEW YORK/MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – A deadly blast of arctic air shattered decades-old temperature records as it enveloped the eastern United States on Tuesday, snarling air, road and rail travel, driving energy prices higher and overwhelming shelters for homeless people.
At least nine deaths have been reported across the country connected with the polar air mass that swept over North America during the past few days. Authorities have put about half of the United States under a wind chill warning or cold weather advisory.
Among the deaths reported was a 51-year-old homeless man in Columbus, Georgia, whose body was found in an empty lot after spending the night outdoors.
Two men died in Westerport, Massachusetts, while duck hunting on Tuesday when their boat capsized, dropping them into a frigid river, officials said. A third man was rescued.
A large avalanche in backcountry outside the Colorado ski resort area of Vail killed one person on Tuesday and caught up three others who survived and were being rescued, officials said. Avalanche danger in the area was rated as “considerable” due to high winds and recent heavy snows, said Spencer Logan, forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Four cold and storm-related deaths were reported around Chicago and an elderly woman was found dead outside her Indianapolis home early Monday.
Temperatures were expected to be 25 degrees to 35 degrees Fahrenheit below normal from the Midwest to the Southeast, the National Weather Service said.
PJM Interconnection, the agency that oversees the electric grid supplying the mid-Atlantic and parts of the Midwest, said electricity suppliers were struggling to keep up with surging demand as the cold forced some power plants to shut.
“This particular cold is far-reaching, and most of our neighbors are experiencing the extreme conditions we are,” said Michael Kormos, executive vice president for operations at PJM Interconnection.
Oil refiners were also hit, with Marathon Petroleum Corp and Exxon Mobil Corp both experiencing cold-related outages.
In Oklahoma, a depleted supply of propane due to extreme weather led Governor Mary Fallin to declare a state of emergency, waiving licensing requirements for out-of-state transportation companies to allow them to bring in propane.
Homeless shelters and public buildings took in people who were freezing outside.
Daniel Dashner, a 33-year-old homeless man who typically sleeps under a bridge on Milwaukee’s south side, said he opted to seek a spot at a shelter on Monday night.
“Usually if I have four or five blankets, I can stay pretty warm, but when that wind is blowing, I don’t care how many blankets I have, the wind blows right through me,” he said, as temperatures dropped to minus 6 degrees Fahrenheit.
COLD’S BROAD REACH
Major U.S. cities were in the grip of temperatures well below freezing, with Chicago seeing 2 degrees Fahrenheit , Detroit 0 F (minus 18 C), Pittsburgh 5 F, Washington 19, and Boston 15 F.
New York’s Central Park recorded the lowest temperature for the date, 4 Fahrenheit, rising to 9 F on Tuesday afternoon with wind chills making it feel much colder, meteorologists said.
At New York’s Bowery Mission homeless shelter, the 80-bed dormitory was full on Monday night and 179 other people slept in the chapel and cafeteria, officials said.
Schools in Minneapolis and Chicago were closed for a second day on Tuesday, although Chicago plans to reopen schools on Wednesday. Cleveland remained below freezing after temperatures fell to minus 11 F on Monday, breaking a 130-year-old record.
Impassable snow and ice halted three Chicago-bound Amtrak trains on Monday, stranding more than 500 passengers overnight in northwestern Illinois.
In the normally mild south, Atlanta recorded its coldest weather on this date in 44 years, as the temperature dropped to 6 degrees Fahrenheit, while temperatures in northern Florida also briefly dropped below freezing, though the state’s citrus crop was unharmed, according to a major growers’ group.
ARCTIC CHILL EXPOSES WEAKNESS OF U.S. NATURAL GAS SYSTEM
By Julia Edwards
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Brutally cold weather this week laid bare critical weaknesses in the Northeastern U.S. natural gas system, leaving some states paying vast sums for supplies as arctic weather enveloped the region.
Despite its location alongside the biggest natural gas deposit in the country, the northeast region saw record price spikes on Monday as an unprecedented surge in demand from power plants and homeowners overwhelmed pipelines.
The rise in prices forced spot-market buyers in New York and New England to pay up to 20 times more for their gas than amply supplied hubs in Texas and Louisiana.
The volatility shows that nearly a decade into a drilling boom that has flooded much of the country with gas, a lack of pipelines has left some areas vulnerable to shortages this year and potentially for years to come.
It is a weak spot in what has been a huge resurgence in U.S. natural gas production over the past 10 years, and exposes how in some areas pipelines have failed to keep up with the new supplies that have come out of the ground.
“There’s a reason why New England is the most volatile power and gas market in the country,” said Addison Armstrong, senior director of market research at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut. “It has been slow on the uptake and now we’re behind the curve in terms of getting additional capacity brought in there.”
In New York on Monday, natural gas traded at an average of $55 per million British thermal units on the Transco pipeline. Highs for the day reached $90.
The average price broke highs first recorded in 2001, years before the region began importing gas from the Marcellus. In Boston, gas on the Algonquin pipeline swung up by $18 per mmBtu then down by $9 per mmBtu as forecasts turned warmer on Tuesday.
The Marcellus shale, centered in Pennsylvania, has emerged as the giant of the U.S. natural gas market. It currently produces 13 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day (bcfd), accounting for about 18 percent of total U.S. supply, up from just 2 bcfd in 2010, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Over the next three years, pipeline capacity from the Marcellus is expected to grow to carry 8.7 bcf more gas per day, 4.3 bcf of which will be directed to the Northeast, according to data from Jonathan Gould, a senior oil and gas analyst at Genscape.
But far less of that will reach New England, Gould said.
Moreover, even that growth rate is not enough to keep up with the robust production in the region, so flows from wells must be tapered, Gould said.
Despite years of supply bottlenecks, only one announced project is targeting New England states. Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Incremental Market project will expand an existing system through Connecticut and Massachusetts carrying 342 million cubic feet of gas per day. The pipeline is not scheduled to be completed until November 2016, however, and will not reach past Boston.
“There is a constraint getting all that gas out of the area,” Gould said. “In the Marcellus, you’ve got so many gas wells and it’s such a constrained system, that the pressure on the system keeps gas from flowing how it would normally flow.”
It is a tough break for the six New England states that have been quick to change from coal to gas-powered electric plants. Natural gas now supplies most of the electricity to the region. Between 2011 and 2017, New England will have cut its electricity generated from coal by more than half, according to Reuters data.
Some companies are being forced to reroute gas originally meant for New England to other regions to alleviate the supply built up in the Marcellus, Armstrong said.
Building too much capacity too fast could flood the market and kill demand on days that are milder than seen recently. Developing gas supply becomes “lumpy,” according to Gordon Pickering, an analyst at Navigant Research in Houston, who said gas companies tend to develop gas supplies before they develop pipelines.
“More supply means lower prices,” said Pickering. “So pipeline decisions require a long-term view of the market.
(Additional reporting by Nick Carey and Dhanya Skariachan in Chicago, Barbara Goldberg, Ellen Wulfhorst, Scott DiSavino and Marina Lopes in New York, Ian Simpson in Washington, Eileen O’Grady in Houston, Daniel Lovering in Boston, David Beasley and Karen Jacobs in Atlanta, Kim Palmer in Cleveland, Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Heide Brandes in Oklahoma City, Keith Coffman in Denver, Tom Brown in Miami and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Writing by Scott Malone and Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Phil Berlowitz, Grant McCool and Ken Wills)