Forecasts call for the coming winter season to be "kinder and gentler," with less snow in the nation's mid-Atlantic region, according to that font of climatological information, the Farmer's Almanac. That's good news for the region, which was buried under record accumulations of the white stuff last year.
The bad news, the 194-year-old publication says, is that much of the country will be colder than normal, and New England residents should brace for a "cold slap in the face," having escaped brutally cold temperatures last winter.
Luckily for consumers who heat their homes with oil, as many do in the Northeast, historic surpluses of crude mean heating oil prices are relatively low compared to the record high prices some paid just two years ago. After rising in June and July, crude oil prices have dropped about 7% in August, according to HeatingOil.com, a fuel-delivery pricing service.
Though it's difficult to forecast where volatile oil prices will trend in the coming weeks and months, HeatingOil.com managing editor Josh Garrett says the "massive oversupply" of petroleum products will likely keep prices in check in the near term. "That oversupply, we're hoping, will keep prices down throughout the season," he says.
Unleaded Regular Is Down
Of course, where oil prices head is in part a matter of the economy's health. After falling to historic lows in early 2009, oil prices resumed a loftier perch in anticipation of robust economic recovery and possible oil shortages. But with the U.S. recovery now seemingly stalled -- and plenty of crude on hand -- oil prices have little momentum to move higher.
One example is gasoline prices, which have fallen more than 7 cents a gallon in the two weeks ending Aug. 27, according to the Lundberg Survey. The national average price for regular self-serve fell to $2.70 a gallon and is likely to stay there, absent any shocks, the market research firm said.
Home heating oil, which is less refined than gasoline, is even cheaper. A random sampling of heating oil prices Tuesday in two New York cities on CODOil.com showed a range of $2.33 a gallon in Poughkeepsie to $2.43 a gallon in White Plains, for one-time delivery.
Prices are about on par with what consumers paid last year, HeatingOil.com's Garrett says. Further, he says, with the industry moving away from traditional price-lock contracts, which guarantee a set price for the heating season, consumers could save more if oil prices drop further.
Still, Garrett says, consumers should be mindful that savings don't only come from lower fuel prices. Beefing up home insulation, caulking leaks that allow cold air to seep in, and lowering thermostat settings are other ways to save big bucks.
Lastly, he says, homeowners facing tough financial times should keep in mind that many dealers offer budget payment plans that allow them to spread out heating oil payments over the year.