Natural Gas Companies have a responsibility to maintain a steady flow of fuel to customers who expect that gas will be there whenever they turn up the thermostat, turn on the oven, need hot water, dry their laundry, and, in the case of manufacturers, start their large-consumption equipment. Unfortunately for the gas companies, supplying gas is not a simple procedure.

Gas doesn't flow like water from a nearby water company. Except for limited local production, gas companies typically have to purchase gas from suppliers hundreds or thousands of miles away. Once purchased, this gas is typically stored locally for gradual distribution to local customers and cannot be 'given back'. So, the service company must make some projection of demand and order enough gas so as to be prepared to service its customers, but not order so much gas that local storage capacity will be exceeded.

Winter weather challenges the industry's ability to make demand projections. Sometimes, even the actual ability to provide fuel to both commercial and domestic users is taxed to the point where industrial users must be denied. This curtailment is a safety procedure used to make sure gas is available to critical institutions, like hospitals, and to domestic users who rely on natural gas for warmth.

If the gas company is to operate both economically and reliably, it must consider weather when projecting demand. Temperature is the most important factor in heating requirements. The company can make a reasonable demand projection based on the 24-hour average temperature alone. However, the daily demand curve is not flat. Besides varying with the level of domestic activity at different times of day, the curve also varies with times of high and low temperatures. This creates peaks of unusually high demand, and can be especially critical between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. when the low temperature usually occurs. The company must prepare for these peaks or risk dangerously low pressures. In the case of a severe cold wave, not only could peaks become unmanageable, but the constant demand over a relatively long period of time could be so great as to require the curtailment of supplies to large-volume industrial users.

There is only one way to manage demand projection, and that is with a dependable forecast that provides hourly temperatures for projecting overall daily demand and to help identify the time and magnitude of peaks. These temperature forecasts should be enhanced with projections of cloud cover (more fuel needed on a cloudy day), and wind speed (more fuel needed on a windy day). Some idea of the general weather would also be helpful, especially in scheduling and advising outdoor crews when snow and ice threaten. The forecasts should be provided at least twice a day based on the latest available weather observations, forecaster expertise and computer guidance, and should be provided in a format that the gas industry can use quickly and efficiently in projecting demand. Skywatch can provide the forecasts that do this and more. Delivery is available via fax, computer-to-computer, dial-up and Internet. Text format can also be accompanied by a data stream suitable for direct input to load forecast models.

As always, authorized decision makers can call, toll-free, for consultations and special updates. Speaking directly with the forecaster can be the final factor in important decisions, and can be especially critical during strong cooling and warming trends, and during extended periods of extreme temperatures.

Three- to five-day forecasts are standard. Skywatch can also provide seven-day, 10-day, monthly and seasonal outlooks.