Mild winter weather forecast for holiday weekend

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Utility company reports little change in consumer heating habits.

Area residents can expect a wet, though not necessarily a white Christmas this year.

Meteorologists say there is a chance for a mixture of rain and snow flurries starting Saturday, and possibly carrying over into Sunday.

"But we're not expecting any snow depth at this time," said Jim Packett, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky.

Despite today being the first official day of winter, meteorologists are expecting temperatures to rise into the 50s by Christmas Day. The forecast for the rest of the winter is expected to be slightly above normal.

Packett attributed the recent cooler temperatures to an arctic air mass that moved over the region.

"The arctic air mass pulled some cold air from the snow-packed north down with it," he said. "That's why it's been a little unusually cool for this time of year."

The recent cold temperatures might have an effect on already estimated higher heating bills, but Ameren spokesman Mike Cleary, said it's a little too early to tell.

"We've had a little cold spell but it's pretty early in the season," Cleary said.

Ameren has estimated an average residential heating bill to be about $37 more per month this winter.

Cleary said despite warnings for customers to turn their thermostats down one or two degrees to save on their heating bills, Ameren has seen normal usage in meter readings.

"When people see their first big bill of the season, probably by the next billing cycle, we might see a difference," he said. "We're just really getting into the bulk of the winter season. There are still a lot of cold weather months left."

With the higher heating costs, the Salvation Army has run out of funds to help low-income families pay their bills for the rest of the year.

"All of the funding we've had come in is depleted," said Maj. Michael Thomas of the Salvation Army. "We'll be out of funds until the first of next year, sometime in January."

Thomas said the Salvation Army is allocated about $10,000 on a quarterly basis. The most recent funds were gone by Dec. 15.

The Salvation Army has received 50 percent more calls to help with heating bills this year compared to years past.

"If people want to help support us, this is the time of year to do it," Thomas said.

jfreeze@semissourian.com

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