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Longer-Term Weather Turns Cooler; February Called Up 3 Cents

February natural gas is set to open 3 cents higher at $2.30 as traders anticipate the season's first triple-digit storage withdrawal and weather forecasts turn a little cooler. Overnight oil markets continued their trek lower.

Wednesday evening weather model runs came in a little cooler before the week's Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report. WSI Corp. in its Thursday morning report said, "[Thursday's] 11-15 day period forecast still features below-average conditions across the southern and eastern U.S. The forecast is a bit colder than yesterday's forecast. CONUS GWHDDs are up 1.2 for days 11-14 and are now forecast to be 153.3 for the period. Forecast confidence is only near average today as there are conflicting large-scale signals and uncertainty with the storm track off the East Coast.

"The prevailing negative NAO/AO supports a general risk to the colder side, which is greatest over the southern and eastern U.S. The northern Rockies and north-central U.S. has a slight upside risk."

It looks as if the markets may finally have to deal with the season's first triple-digit storage draw, but even that will fall far short of historical metrics. The market is expecting right around a 100 Bcf withdrawal to be reported, but last year 116 Bcf was pulled and the five-year rate comes in at 129 Bcf. Stocks currently stand at 3,756 Bcf, and if inventories are to be whittled down to a seemingly manageable 2,000 Bcf by the end of March, 135 Bcf will have to be withdrawn weekly.

PIRA Energy is expecting a withdrawal of 100 Bcf, and industry consultant Genscape calculates a 104 Bcf pull. A Reuters survey of 20 industry cognoscenti revealed an average 99 Bcf decline with a range of -84 to -118 Bcf.

Industry consultant Bentek Energy said there might be low-side risk to the number "as lingering holiday effects may have lead to some overestimation of demand, though it is unclear what the magnitude of the overestimation may have been, given the already lower than average demand."

Bentek calculates a draw of 101 Bcf draw utilizing its flow model and said, "compared to last week, the largest changes in sample storage activity occurred in the Pacific Region, where sample withdrawals totaled near 24 Bcf from last week's 8 Bcf, and the Midwest Region, where sample withdrawal activity increased to 13 Bcf from last week's 5 Bcf. The increased activity in the two regions coincided with temperature declines of 5 degrees in each region, with the Pacific Region averaging 46 degrees, and the Midwest Region 37 degrees."

In overnight Globex trading February crude oil continued its downward spiral, dropping $1.33 to $32.64/bbl, and February RBOB gasoline fell a penny to $1.1511/gal.

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