December natural gas was set to open nearly 3 cents higher at around $3.202 Thursday, with all eyes turning to the 10:30 a.m. release of the Energy Information Administration's (EIA) weekly storage figure. Overnight oil markets were mixed.

The storage build for the week ended Nov. 3 is expected to come in well below the five-year average, a potentially bullish development. But after an early week surge on forecasts of the season's first major cold blast, the December contract is threatening to break through technical resistance.

Natural gas is "at a critical juncture," Brian LaRose of ICAP Technical Analysis said following Wednesday’s close. "We have natural gas testing a key band of resistance" in the 3.13-3.19 range. "Can the bulls bust out? If so, we can set our sights on 3.279-3.432 next (and probably much higher levels after). If not, bulls risk losing the upper hand."

EIA's storage report could set the tone Thursday, with some analysts forecasting fundamental tightness in the market and the injection figure as a potential wake-up call.

Consensus appeared to be for a storage build in the teens. A Reuters survey of traders and analysts showed a build of 15 Bcf, with a range of -3 Bcf to +32 Bcf. Last year 54 Bcf were injected, and the five-year average stands at +45 Bcf. Kyle Cooper of IAF Advisors was calling for a 14 Bcf injection, and Stephen Smith of Stephen Smith Energy has also estimated a build of 14 Bcf.

An injection in the 12-15 Bcf range "would be good, but the whisper number we're hearing is 7 Bcf or 8 Bcf," senior market analyst Phil Flynn of The Price Futures Group, told NGI Wednesday. "We know there's an incredible amount of demand. The weather has been bullish. I think this could be a wake-up call."

MDA Weather Services said overnight changes in its six- to 10-day forecast "were generally small in magnitude...although a stronger low over the East and a more intense surface high into parts of the Midcontinent late has the East being slightly warmer and Midwest colder at the that time.

"Otherwise, the East Coast continues to favor near-normal temperatures for the period, with any below-normal readings here being focused at the onset with high pressure pushing through. Above-normal temperatures take aim at the Midcontinent, including much-aboves in parts of Texas and the Southwest. Cold air looks to reestablish in western Canada by mid-period."

In overnight trading, December crude oil gained 6 cents and was trading at $56.87/bbl just before open, while December RBOB gasoline fell fractionally to $1.8185/gal.