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Wintry weather drives energy prices higher

NEW YORK — Natural gas prices climbed Monday as another winter storm was expected to dump even more snow on the East Coast.

Already, parts of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington are blanketed in about three feet of snow, knocking out power for tens of thousands of people and forcing government offices to close.

As those regions dig out and warm up, analysts said they expected to see sizable draws on the country's supply of natural gas and heating oil. Energy prices surged in response.

"It's brutally cold," analyst and trader Stephen Schork said. "We got a ton of snow, and more is on the way."

The National Weather Service said Monday that another storm could drop at least a foot of fresh powder on the beleaguered Mid-Atlantic. Forecasters said the storm will be strongest in central northern Maryland, northern Delaware, and parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Forecaster Bruce Sullivan said the agency doesn't "really see any warm weather in sight."

Natural gas for March delivery jumped 9 cents, nearly 2 percent, to $5.605 per 1,000 cubic feet on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

If natural gas prices keep growing, utilities will eventually try to pass those costs along to consumers in higher rates. But it usually takes an extended surge in futures prices to affect home heating bills.

Benchmark crude for March delivery added 73 cents at $71.92 a barrel on the Nymex. In London, Brent crude gained 74 cents at $70.33 on the ICE futures exchange.

At the pump, gasoline prices fell a half penny overnight to a new national average of $2.652 a gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. A gallon of regular unleaded is 8.5 cents cheaper than last month, but it's still 73.1 cents more expensive than the same time last year.

In other Nymex trading in March contracts, heating oil increased 1.69 cents to $1.8917 a gallon, and gasoline rose 1.12 cents at $1.8976 a gallon.

Associated Press writers Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary, and Chun Han Wong in Singapore contributed to this report.