Special to The Hays Daily News

Natural gas prices have spiked in recent days due to several weeks of record low temperatures and "polar vortexes" hitting large parts of the country. Combined with depleted natural gas storage supplies nationwide, the likely result will be higher gas bills for February and March.

"With all the cold weather last month in the Midwest and Northeast, gas storage supplies are at a five-year low, and forecasts for most of the country are calling for below-normal temperatures," said Dixie Riedel, senior gas scheduler for Midwest Energy. "Our two main pipeline suppliers have put out critical notices indicating tighter supplies, and usage remains very high. So we're having to buy more expensive gas than last month."

Midwest Energy's January gas price averaged $4.73 for January, so a home using 140 therms (approximately 14 million BTUs) used $66.22 in gas. In early February, daily prices for gas so far are nearly 90 cents higher than January. If those prices stay consistent through February, the cost of gas for that same home would climb to $78.82.

"We're seeing a lot of volatility in daily prices right now. We've seen prices on some pipelines above $30 per million BTU," said Pat Parke, Midwest Energy's vice president of customer service. "Hopefully, daily prices will moderate later this month, and we can offset these higher costs. But we wanted customers to be informed so they're not surprised when they open their February and March bills."

Bills vary by customer depending on the size and age of the home, number of gas appliances, number in the household, thermostat settings and levels of insulation.

Midwest Energy has in place a number of tools to help customers manage their energy bills, including energy assistance and efficiency tips, and several payment options. Details for these programs can be found at www.mwenergy.com or by calling (800) 222-3121.