Natural gas futures added to initial opening strength Thursday morning after the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a storage withdrawal that was about in line with what the market was expecting.

EIA reported a 119 Bcf storage withdrawal in its 10:30 a.m. EST release; traders had been expecting a pull of about 2 Bcf less. February futures opened floor trading about 12 cents higher off supportive weather forecasts, but after the number was released February reached a high of $3.487, and by 10:45 a.m. February was trading at $3.480, up 14.8 cents from Wednesday's settlement.

"We've had pretty mild temperatures here last week so someone took the report as bullish," said a New York floor trader. "We were looking at $3.44 to $3.45 just before the number came out."

"The 119 Bcf net withdrawal for last week was nearly in line with the consensus expectation and so neutral on that score," said Tim Evans of Citi Futures Perspective. "At the same time, however, this was a big step down from the 243 Bcf drop in the prior week and below the 176 Bcf five-year average, and so bearish on a seasonally adjusted basis. Storage remains at a relatively comfortable level, 20 Bcf (0.7%) below the five-year average as we approach the midpoint of the winter on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2."

"We believe the storage report will be viewed as neutral," said Randy Ollenberger, an analyst with BMO Capital Markets. "Storage has dropped to five-year average levels, and we believe that U.S. working gas in storage could trend toward five-year lows by the end of the 2017 winter withdrawal season, assuming normal weather."

Inventories now stand at 2,798 Bcf and are 348 Bcf less than last year and 20 Bcf less than the five-year average. In the East Region, 43 Bcf was withdrawn and the Midwest Region saw inventories decrease by 38 Bcf. Stocks in the Mountain Region fell 10 Bcf, and the Pacific Region was down 13 Bcf. The South Central Region dropped 15 Bcf.

Salt Cavern storage was up 13 Bcf at 325 Bcf, and non-salt storage was lower by 28 Bcf to 712 Bcf.