Significant demand for natural gas in mid-February led to the second-largest reported withdrawal of natural gas from storage in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report (WNGSR). Weekly stocks fell by 338 billion cubic feet (Bcf) in the week ending February 19, 2021, nearly three times the average withdrawal for mid-February. A record amount of natural gas, 156 Bcf, was withdrawn during that week in the South Central region, which includes Texas.
Colder-than-normal temperatures across much of the Lower 48 states, especially in Texas, led to increased demand for space heating. Population-weighted heating degree days (HDDs) represent temperature deviations lower than 65 degrees Fahrenheit and are weighted based on population distributions across the country. For the week ending February 19, U.S. HDDs reached 254, or nearly 40% colder than normal, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In Texas, the two most common space heating fuels are electricity (the primary heating fuel in more than 60% of Texas homes, according to Census data) and natural gas (36%). Increases in electricity demand also affect natural gas demand because natural gas is the most prevalent electricity generation source in Texas and in much of the South.
Estimated U.S. natural gas demand on February 14, 2021, reached 148.3 Bcf, surpassing the previous single-day record set in January 2019, according to estimates from IHS Markit. In addition, during the week ending February 19, U.S. average weekly dry natural gas production fell by 13.8 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), according to estimates from IHS Markit. The decline in natural gas production was primarily because of freeze-offs, which occur when water and other liquids freeze at the wellhead or in natural gas gathering lines near production activities. Dry natural gas production fell by an estimated 10 Bcf/d in Texas alone, according to IHS Markit estimates.
I’ve got three words to summarize all this: Modern Solar Minimum.
Solar Cycle 24 (December 2008 to December 2019) is recorded to be the weakest in magnitude in the “Space Age” (after 1957).
And the first for which radiometers aboard Earth-orbiting satellites can provide accurate and reliable lower tropospheric temperature (began in 1979). Temperatures (and sea level estimates for that matter) prior to 1979 are notoriously unreliable.
Which, of course, comprise the bulk of the IPCC dataset used to forecast future climate and sea levels.
Solar Cycle 24 is not only the weakest in solar activity, but also in average solar wind parameters and solar wind–magnetosphere energy coupling. This resulted in lower geomagnetic activity, lower numbers of high-intensity long-duration continuous auroral electrojet (AE) activity (HILDCAA) events and geomagnetic storms.
In fact, Solar Cycle 24 exhibited a ≈54 – 61% reduction in HILDCAA occurrence rate (per year), ≈15 – 34% reduction in moderate storms (−50 nT≥Dst>−100 nT), ≈49 – 75% reduction in intense storms (−100 nT≥Dst>−250 nT) compared to previous cycles, and no superstorms (Dst≤−250 nT).
The solar-wind energy flux into Earth’s magnetosphere (Ein) can explain up to 25% total interannual variance of the northern-hemispheric temperature in the subsequent boreal winter.
In other words, with a weakening cycle, the next decade or so will be very interesting.