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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canadians should brace for a bitter winter, Environment Canada said on Friday, forecasting an unusually cold season for much of the country for the first time in more than a decade
The federal weather agency said it expects below normal temperatures for most regions this winter. Only parts of northern Canada and Ontario will be exempt from the trend, with temperatures in those areas expected to be normal.
If the forecaster is correct, it will be the first time since the winter of 1994-95 that the vast majority of the country has had a colder winter than usual.
"It's surprising because we've had such a spate of milder than normal winters," said Dave Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment Canada. "Most of the country will be colder than normal and the rest will be near normal."
Phillips said the "La Nina" phenomenon was behind the inhospitable forecast. La Nina is a vast cold pool of water off the coast of South America that typically brings colder and snowy weather to Canada.
It's the opposite of the "El Nino" weather pattern, where the Eastern Pacific warms and brings balmy temperatures to much of the nation.
Bitter weather would be a boon for the country's natural gas producers. Prices lagged this year after last winter proved to be unusually warm and failed to provide enough heating demand to sop up record inventories of the fuel.
A sustained bout of cold weather could cut supplies and boost natural gas prices, which have fallen by almost 25 percent over the past year.
The National Energy Board said last month that Canada's stocks of natural gas and heating oil were more than adequate to meet winter demand.
Editing by Rob Wilson