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Winter storms and spiking energy prices could lead to record high heating bills

By Chris Isidore, CNN Business

As if consumers weren’t being squeezed enough by rising prices for a wide range of goods, this month’s blast of winter weather will mean that many Americans could face record high heating costs this year.

Cold weather, ice and snow have blanketed much of the United States in recent days and more is expected to hit soon, including in normally warm weather states such as North and South Carolina. That could send already sky high heating bills up even more, due mainly to spiking fuel prices.

According to forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US homes will actually use slightly less heat than last winter, when a cold snap in much of the central part of the country sent heating demand up about 3% from the prior year. But the significant increase in the costs of all types of heating fuel means that US households will pay between $700 and $1,700 more for heat this winter, depending upon where they live and what type of fuel they use.

Natural gas, which is used to heat nearly half of all US homes, is 32% more expensive than it was a year ago, according to the US Energy Information Agency. And in some parts of the country, prices are even higher — including a 45% increase in the Midwest. The cost of electricity, the second most common source of heat that 40% of US homes rely on, is up nearly 6% nationwide. And costs are even higher in the South — up around 8% — where nearly two thirds of homes heat with electric power.

The price of heating oil, which is primarily used in older homes and buildings in the Northeast and other cold weather areas of the country, is up 35%.

Propane is the third most common heating fuel, primarily used in rural parts of the Midwest and Northeast. The price of propane is up 44% and 29% in those two regions, respectively, and up 30% in the South, where its use is also common.

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