June natural gas was set to open Thursday near even at around $2.753/MMBtu, with the market turning its attention to the 10:30 a.m. ET release of government storage data, which may finally usher in the start of injections.

Estimates for Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report point to the injection season officially getting underway this week -- about a month later than unusual.

A Reuters survey of traders and analysts on average called for EIA to report a 52 Bcf injection into Lower 48 gas stocks for the week ending April 27, with responses ranging from 40 Bcf to 68 Bcf. A Bloomberg survey produced a median build of 51 Bcf, with responses ranging from 40 Bcf to 62 Bcf. Last year EIA recorded a 68 Bcf injection during the period, while the five-year average is a build of 69 Bcf.

IAF Advisors analyst Kyle Cooper predicted a 53 Bcf injection, while Genscape Inc. called for a 55 Bcf injection. Intercontinental Exchange EIA storage futures settled Wednesday at an injection of 55 Bcf for the upcoming report.

The market may need to see a smaller injection to avoid a move lower given moderate weather and strong production that’s expected to continue rising, according to Price Futures Group senior analyst Phil Flynn, who called for a 40 Bcf build.

“I think if we get a number anywhere near the five-year average it will get very bearish for this market, and I think the market’s preparing for the possibility that it’s going to go down,” he said.

NatGasWeather.com said its algorithm pointed to a build of 55 Bcf. “It was colder than normal over the Plains, South, Great Lakes and East, while warmer than normal over the West” during the period. We now look to the first signs of widespread heat and see the southern U.S. playing out warmer than normal in late May.

“If it were to continue into early June, as we favor, cooling degree days could begin to take a bigger bite out of injections with increasing power burns. The net result of the recent colder than normal April pattern has been to increase deficits to nearly 550 Bcf after today’s report, then stalling with next week’s report as it’s likely to come in only very slightly larger than normal.”

Overnight weather data was mixed, according to Bespoke Weather Services.

“The consensus was for a couple additional gas-weighted degree days (GWDD), and though we expect GWDDs to be below average through the next two weeks overall we are looking for the hotter risks in the pattern to eventually become bullish should they linger into the final third of May as expected,” Bespoke said.

“...We are expecting a print in the low to mid 50s today, which is relatively supportive as it will demonstrate lingering tightness in the natural gas market,” the firm said. “However, the market has caught on to the significant loosening that has played out over the last week, and that has opened up a test of at least the $2.70-2.72 level.”

Lower storage levels could “prop up the front of the strip” once cooling demand ramps up, “but until then a loosening balance and lackluster short-term weather should keep the summer strip under pressure,” according to Bespoke.

June crude oil was set to open about 22 cents lower at around $67.71/bbl, while June RBOB gasoline was trading about a penny lower at around $2.0695/gal.