Think the Cold Is Brutal? Wait Until Your Heating Bill Arrives

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Better start saving now for that next heating bill that’s going to arrive in the mail. Some predict heating costs will hit all-time highs this month.

January 2014 has brought with it record-breaking cold weather in many parts of the country, particularly in the Midwest. January 6, for instance, will go down as one of the coldest days ever in Chicago history, per the National Weather Service, when it was -14 in the Windy City at noon.

On Friday, the Weather Channel noted that “there’s no end in sight as we close out January” for the arctic air that has seemed to hover endlessly over the Midwest, South, and Northeast. In the days ahead, dozens of cities will see temperatures 15 to 30 degrees below average for this time of year, with wind chills causing it to feel much, much colder.

The sustained cold is sure to cause millions of Americans to shudder not only when they venture outside, but also when their dreaded upcoming heating bills make their inevitable appearances. Experts cited by USA Today say that the costs of heating homes in the Midwest this winter is likely to rise in well excess of 20% compared to last year. In some cases, price spikes are bound to be much worse. In states such as Texas, people who use electric heat have seen their monthly bills rise three times what they were paying a year ago. “I wouldn’t be surprised if January’s bills are a record for any month,” Jerry McKim, who heads Iowa’s energy assistance program, said to USA Today.

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The situation is particularly dire for the seven million or so homes and businesses that rely on propane heating in the U.S. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that after weeks of subzero temperatures through much of the country, propane supplies are in short supply and prices have gone through the roof. As of January 10, there was enough propane available to supply users nationally for just 24 days; a year prior, the propane supply stood at 42 days. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, propane prices in the Midwest have hit highs not seen in more than two decades. The average residential price for propane last week topped $2.96 per gallon, which is 68¢ higher than a year ago. Things have gotten so bad that Texas Governor Rick Perry signed an emergency declaration this week making it easier for other states facing propane shortages to buy propane from Texas, where two-thirds of the nation’s propane is produced.

The governors of Tennessee and Alabama have also declared temporary states of emergency in order to ease restrictions concerning buying and shipping propane over state lines, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. One wholesale propane dealer said that during his two decades in the business he had “never seen this type of price spike.” At the time, wholesale prices were around $3 per gallon, nearly $1 higher than the rate readily available this past summer.

Regular homeowners have been confronted with much higher prices, especially in the Midwest, where in some cases rates inched close to $5 per gallon on Thursday, Reuters reported.