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As Cold and Snow March East, Broad Advance Ensues; Futures Ease

Spot gas for delivery Wednesday gained ground in Tuesday trading ahead of a pervasive late-winter storm expected to impact the Rockies and Midwest before moving on to New England and the East.

In Tuesday's trading nearly all points gained with the exception of California and a few isolated locations in the Gulf Coast and elsewhere. At the close of futures trading April had eased 4.6 cents to $4.605 and May was down by 3.2 cents to $4.544. April crude oil lost $1.09 to $100.03/bbl.

Next-day prices across the Midwest made double-digit advances as Tuesday's relatively mild temperatures were expected to give way to readings about 15 degrees below normal by Wednesday. AccuWeather.com forecast that the high in Minneapolis Tuesday of 39 would slide to 21 on Wednesday before rising to 42 on Thursday. The normal high in Minneapolis for mid-March is 39. Chicago's Tuesday high of 48 was anticipated to slide to 27 Wednesday before reaching 32 on Thursday. The normal high in Chicago at this time of year is 45. Detroit's 49 high Tuesday was predicted to drop to 28 by Wednesday and fall further to 19 by Thursday. The seasonal high in the Motor City is 44.

"Despite the recent warmth in the city, winter will make a comeback to Detroit at midweek," said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski. "Rain showers will give way to accumulating snow Tuesday night through Wednesday as a winter storm takes shape across the Ohio Valley then tracks to the Northeast.

"Snow could fall heavy at times late Tuesday night into Wednesday with the potential for up to eight inches of accumulation. This will create hazardous driving conditions for the Wednesday morning commute along with flight delays and cancellations at the airports. A frigid Thursday will unfold in the wake of the snowstorm. Temperatures this day will struggle to reach the 30-degree mark.

"However, spring-like weather will return for Friday and Saturday as temperatures spike back up into the mid-40s. By the end of the weekend, temperatures will drop back into the 30s for the beginning of next week."

On balance, heating requirements are expected to be only modestly above normal. The National Weather Service forecasts that for the week ended March 15 New England will see 229 heating degree days (HDD), or just 13 more than normal. The Mid-Atlantic is expected to have 210 HDD, or 14 more than its norm, and the Midwest from Ohio to Wisconsin will have 211 HDD, or five more than its typical seasonal accumulation.

At the Chicago Citygates gas for delivery Wednesday was quoted at $5.38, up 46 cents, and on Northern Natural Ventura Wednesday packages were seen at $6.10, up 48 cents. Michcon packages increased by 52 cents to $7.46 and gas on Consumers rose by 28 cents to $7.64. Deliveries to Dawn came in at $8.24, up 79 cents.

New England and eastern points were also firm as the cold and storms were anticipated to hit about a day behind the Midwest and Great Lakes. AccuWeather.com forecast that the high in Boston Tuesday of 55 would descend to 44 Wednesday and 27 on Thursday. The normal high in Boston is 44. New York City's balmy 65 on Tuesday was predicted to drop to 57 on Wednesday and 28 on Thursday. The normal mid-March high in New York is 48. In Washington, DC, the high of 72 Tuesday was expected to fall to 66 Wednesday before plummeting to 31 on Thursday. The seasonal high in the nation's capitol is 54.

The National Weather Service in New York City said "an intensifying low pressure system will pass across the region Wednesday evening. An Arctic blast of cold air moves over the region for Thursday with high pressure building in. A cold front will pass through late on Saturday...with more cold high pressure for Sunday. Low pressure tracks south of region early next week."

Gas for next-day delivery at the Algonquin Citygates rose by $1.12 to $8.31, and on Iroquois Waddington Wednesday packages rose by $1.39 to $8.25. On Tennessee Zone 6 200 L gas was seen $1.01 higher at $8.41.

Gas for Wednesday delivery on Dominion added 34 cents to $4.50, and parcels on Transco Leidy added 44 cents to $4.00. Gas on Tetco M-3 Delivery gained 34 cents to $4.89, and gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 rose $1.77 to $6.45.

WSI Corp. of Andover, MA, said there are no significant changes in its six- to 10-day outlook. It shows below and much below normal temperatures east of the Kansas-Missouri border all the way to the Atlantic Seaboard. West of that is seen as normal to above normal. "Confidence is roughly average although there is a good deal of uncertainty with respect to the timing/track of a storm early next week, [and] the models are slowly converging on a less phased solution for next week's storm, keeping it suppressed deep in the south while the polar jet lifts north,” WSI said. “This will keep the Southeast quite cool and damp early next week but allow for a moderating trend in the north central U.S."

Longer term, market observers see a diminished impact from any cold weather. Nonetheless, there are still forces at work capable of providing a supportive price environment. "The weather factor has diminished in importance and the daily updates to the short term temperature views don't pack the wallop seen during January and February," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in closing comments to clients on Tuesday. "However, this market will still need to negotiate through another potentially bullish storage figure on Thursday that could extricate nearby futures from the tight range of the past couple of weeks. We are maintaining a bullish stance in quest of fresh highs while, at the same time, advising close stop protection below the $4.55 level per nearest futures."

Short-term traders see Thursday's inventory report as pivotal. "We are kind of at the cusp now of draws," said a New York floor trader. "We had 59 on Saturday and close to 50 on Sunday, so you are starting to see a little turn in the weather where you are seeing warmer temperatures. I'm thinking based on the number this Thursday, we'll get an indication of how people are looking at this market going forward."

Early reads on Thursday's withdrawal figure are 195 to 205 Bcf, which would be the highest March withdrawal period ever.

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