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Related topics: Ultra Petroleum, Joy Global, energy, investing strategy, Michael Brush

A major winter storm brings down the roof of the Minnesota Vikings' Metrodome football stadium. Freezing temperatures that Florida hasn't seen since 1937. The coldest December temperatures in Europe in more than a century.

And then there's this irony: Temperatures in Cancun plunged to a 100-year low during a major summit on climate change last week. Even a steadfast greenie could be forgiven for wondering, "What the heck happened to global warming?"

Of course, one cold snap doesn't prove climate change isn't heating up the planet. But right now, the immediate reality is a hard winter.

Unusual cold or snowfall could trouble the northern quarter of the country all winter, says AccuWeather. Much of the nation's midsection likely will be shivering throughout the winter. At least the South should get a reprieve from the cold in January and February. The culprit in all this is La Niña, which typically brings harsher winter weather to the North of the U.S. and drier weather to the South.

image: Michael Brush

Michael Brush

There's good news for the kids, however: AccuWeather's Joe Bastardi forecasts that half the country will see a white Christmas.

Bastardi's weather forecast means a lot of grown-ups will be bundling up, cranking up the heat and plowing more snow. Which means you might be able to use this cold season to heat up your portfolio.

Stocks to warm your wallet

For investors, this scenario will be good for stocks of companies such as Columbia Sportswear (COLM, news), which sells warm winter clothes and footwear; Vail Resorts (MTN, news) which runs ski getaways; and Douglas Dynamics (PLOW, news), which sells snow removal equipment. It should also help coal stocks such as Peabody Energy (BTU, news) and International Coal Group (ICO, news); Joy Global (JOYG, news), which sells them mining equipment; and natural gas producers such as QEP Resources (QEP, news) and Ultra Petroleum (UPL, news). Electric utilities such as GenOn Energy (GEN, news) and Calpine (CPN, news) may also get a boost.

All of these companies are good long-term investments for reasons beyond the boost from a bad winter, say investment managers who own them. But these stocks should do even better in the near term if the cold forecasts are correct.

Here's a closer look at some of these businesses:

Fun in the snow

Extra snow and cold weather help put skiers in the mood to hit the slopes. Many of them will be going to ski mountains run by Vail Resorts. The company operates six premium resorts, including Breckenridge, the most visited ski resort in the U.S., and Vail Mountain, the largest in the country. Both of these are in Colorado.

Through Dec. 5, Vail Resorts season pass sales were up 7%; hotel bookings are also up significantly. Vail Resorts stock has advanced sharply as well, hitting $53 recently, up from $35 in early September. The stock is not too far below the $55 median price target among analysts, according to Thomson Reuters. Your best bet is to buy on any pullbacks.

Columbia Sportswear offers clothing and equipment for all seasons, but it's particularly strong in cold weather gear. A cold winter in the U.S. and Europe should help the company hit its projected 20% to 23% fourth quarter net sales growth, and 17% to 18% sales growth for the year.

Columbia Sportswear recently launched a line of insulated outerwear called Omni-Heat. The apparel is supposed to keep you warm even when it's wet. It also makes the popular Sorel line of cold-weather boots and shoes. "Recent cold weather throughout the U.S. has increased demand for cold-weather merchandise," says Barclays analyst Robert Drbul, who has a $71 price target on the stock. It recently sold for about $60, and the company pays a 1.4% dividend yield.

To get out and have fun in the snow, you're going to need clear roads, and that's where Douglas Dynamics comes in. The company has a 55% share of the market for snow- and ice-removal equipment. It is the only publicly traded company in this sector.