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Cold Still In Play, Yet February Seen a Nickel Lower

February natural gas is expected to open 5 cents lower Tuesday morning at $3.15 as traders reassess weather forecasts and prepare for a volatile market. Overnight oil markets fell.

Analysts see Monday's gains as all about the weather and look for a volatile market as weather forecasts play out.

"[Monday's] price rally was almost entirely temperature-driven, in our view, as today's updates are generally favoring much colder than previously expected deviations into the upper Midcontinent with below-normal trends stretched broadly across the eastern half of the U.S. during the next couple of weeks," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in closing comments Monday.

"[Monday's] price pop of almost 20 cents, or about 6.5%, suggests a market where price volatility is going to be stepped up appreciably now that some serious winter weather will be setting in. We also viewed [Monday's] pre-expiration strength in the spread curve as a supportive omen, one that increases the possibility of some further ultimate price gains to as high as $3.55 by next week if cold temperature views are stretched out to about mid-January.

"As far as Wednesday's EIA storage [report] is concerned, we will be looking for another sharply downsized supply withdrawal, one that could fall a couple Bcf below last weeks reported 49 Bcf decline. While this could spur a brief selloff, the number could easily be followed by another counter-intuitive price reaction. Overall, we see some wide price swings in looking across the coming month between about $2.75 on the downside and $3.55 on the upside."

Forecasters are calling for no let-up in the pervasive cold. "A dominant high-pressure system will sink south southeastward over the Intermountain West and the northern Plains. Bitter cold arctic air will continue to impact the northern tier of the country, stretching from the Pacific Northwest to the upper Midwest," said Kari Strenfel, Wunderground.com meteorologist.

"Wind chill warnings have already been issued across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming, while wind chill advisories are in place across the Plains and the upper Midwest. Below-normal temperatures will also spread across the Great Basin and the Southwest, bringing a chance of late-evening snow showers to the high deserts of Nevada, southern California and northwest Arizona. Upslope flow will aid in producing moderate to heavy snow showers across the Sierra Nevada, the Wasatch and the Rockies. In addition, light rain will be possible over the southern Plains and the lowest elevations of southern California.

"Meanwhile, cold air associated with the aforementioned high-pressure system will move across the Great Lakes on Tuesday. The interaction between the cold arctic air and the relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes will trigger lake effect snow showers across portions of Michigan, northeast Ohio, northwest Pennsylvania and western New York. To the south, a mixture of rain and snow will affect the interior Mid-Atlantic, especially over the southern Appalachians. Light coastal showers will be possible over Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina."

Bone-chilling cold for the most part looks to bypass many of the populous Midwest and eastern markets. Wunderground.com forecasts that Tuesday's high in Omaha, NE, of 10 will reach 36 by Saturday and fall to 19 next Tuesday. The normal high in Omaha is 33. Chicago's 21 high Tuesday will reach 34 by Saturday before dropping to 21 by next Tuesday. The seasonal high in Chicago is 32. New York's 36 high on Tuesday is expected to reach 40 by Saturday before slipping to 31 by next Tuesday. The normal high in the Big Apple for late December is 39.

In overnight Globex trading February crude oil fell 32 cents to $53.29/bbl and February RBOB gasoline dropped a half cent to $1.4622/gal.

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