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Midwest, Gulf Strength Unable to Offset Weak East, Northeast; Futures Rocket Higher

Spot gas for Wednesday delivery fell in Tuesday's trading as multi-dollar losses at eastern and Northeast points trumped market strength in the Midwest and Gulf. The Midcontinent was mixed and California prices weakened.

Futures vaulted higher as traders discounted near term forecasts of milder temperatures and focused on ever-diminishing storage and next week's temperature outlook. At the close March jumped 33.7 cents to $5.551, still a ways from the $5.737 high posted Feb. 5. April natural gas gained 17.6 cents to $4.753 and March crude oil gained a hefty $2.13 to $102.43/bbl.

In spite of a rapidly moving storm that bludgeoned the East and Northeast Tuesday, prices at eastern points tumbled as traders noted that temperatures were expected to be above seasonal norms, and heavy snows often signify reduced economic activity and less energy usage. "After blasting the Midwest and Great Lakes on Monday and Monday night, a complex, fast-moving storm will bring heavy snow to parts of the Northeast into Tuesday evening," said Dan DePodwin, AccuWeather.com meteorologist. He noted that hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed across the Northeast, and schools have had delayed openings or closed altogether.

The Northeast felt the impacts Tuesday as the storm from the Midwest continued to affect upstate New York and a secondary storm on the coast impacted New England and Long Island.

Temperatures, however, were a different story. AccuWeather.com forecast that Tuesday's high of 33 degrees in Boston would reach 42 on Wednesday and 44 by Thursday. The normal high in Boston mid February is 40. New York City's 31 high on Tuesday was seen jumping to 43 on Wednesday and 44 Thursday. The seasonal high in New York is 42. Washington, D.C.'s 54 high Tuesday was anticipated to hold Wednesday and drop a degree Thursday. The normal high in the Nation's Capitol is 48 this time of year.

Quotes for gas at the Algonquin Citygates dropped $9.42 to $13.62 and at Iroquois Waddington Wednesday parcels came in at $14.26, down $2.10. Deliveries to Tennessee Zone 6 200 L tumbled $7.65 to $13.77.

Farther south gas on Transco Leidy slipped $1.10 to $3.97 and on Dominion Wednesday packages changed hands at $5.22, 8 cents lower. Gas at Tetco M-3 Delivery fell $1.65 to $5.66 and gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 shed $2.96 to $6.01.

Prices at delivery points in the Midwest rose as a major source of gas flowing from the Gulf northward was adversely impacted. NGPL reported that "A Force Majeure event has occurred at Compressor Station 306, located in Hot Spring County, Arkansas. Natural [NGPL] has experienced an unexpected outage due to a mechanical failure on two of the compressor units requiring Natural to reduce the throughput capacity northbound out of Segment 27.  The scheduling constraint will be at Compressor Station 309 (the end of Segment 27 of Natural's Gulf Coast Mainline Zone).  Any gas received south of Station 309 for delivery north of Station 309 (including transport associated with storage withdrawals) will be impacted during this Force Majeure event."

 It went on to say that "As such, effective immediately for gas day Monday, February 17, 2014, Intraday 1 Cycle, and anticipated to last at least through gas day Wednesday, February 26, 2014, Natural will schedule Primary Firm and Secondary in-path Firm transports to 89% of contract MDQ through Compressor Station 309."

Gas deliveries on Alliance rose 47 cents to $8.43 and at the Chicago Citygates Wednesday packages were quoted at $6.58, up 16 cents. On Consumers next-day packages gained $1.64 to $9.83 and on Michcon gas for delivery Wednesday was seen at $9.64, up $1.30.

Next-day prices at Midcontinent points was mixed to lower. Deliveries to Panhandle Eastern added a penny to $5.34 and gas into the NGPL Midcontinent Pool fell a penny to $5.32. Deliveries on ANR SW shed a penny to $5.36, and gas on OGT fell a nickel to $5.32.

Gulf prices firmed. Deliveries to the Henry Hub rose by 20 cents to $5.74 and next-day packages on Transco Zone 3 gained 7 cents to $5.65. On Tennessee 500 L Wednesday parcels came in at $5.66, up 11 cents, and gas delivered to Columbia Gulf Mainline fetched 14 cents more to $5.68.

Most of the day's market action, however, was centered in the futures arena. Prices jumped higher as weather forecasts changed from Friday. Forecasters are now calling for a period of above-normal temperatures followed by more bone-rattling cold. WeatherBELL Analytics in its morning 1- to 5 day outlook forecasts 109.2 Heating Degree Days (HDD) nationally compared to 135.7 HDD for the same period last year. The 30 year average is for 114.4 HDD. In the six- to 10-day period WeatherBell predicts 158.7 HDD relative to last year's 115.3 HDD. The 30 year average is for 115.3 HDD as well.

"The warm up comes and goes in the front 5-day period, and 10 days of major cold follows from the Plains into the East," said WeatherBell forecaster Joe Bastardi. "The threat of record breaking cold exists for the Northern Plains through the Midwest and Great Lakes in the 8-12 Day period."

"After that, the Pacific Jet breaks through and this leads to an increase in uncertainty, as the ECMWF [European model] late in the period looks like it is "dragging its heels" with the progression of the trough, leaving the GFS [Global Forecast System] as the best model solution. Given the two-stream solution and the GFS's track record this winter, it is not something I would normally pick. However, the ECMWF has a known bias of being too slow in bringing troughs out of the Southwest. The 360-hour ECMWF Ensemble would imply that it'll be milder in the East:"

Addison Armstrong of Tradition Energy in a morning report to clients said "It's no surprise that forecasts for below to well below-normal temperatures across the East next week and severely depleted storage levels are providing a boost to the market. Gas prices have pushed back to within twenty cents of this month's earlier four-year high on strong seasonal demand fundamentals, a ten-year low in storage levels and expectations of what will likely be record fourth-consecutive +200 Bcf storage withdrawal."

Industry consultant Genscape sees a near-term increase in production. "After the dip in temperatures in Appalachia over the weekend, weather forecasters are showing widespread warmth throughout the U.S this week. Appalachia production continues its steady recovery after the major cold front earlier this month. Production has increased +0.1 Bcf/d to 13.2 Bcf/ from last week's average of 13.1 Bcf/d."

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