January natural gas futures were up 9.7 cents to $4.233/MMBtu shortly before 9 a.m. ET Thursday, with the market awaiting the release of government storage data and forecasters pointing to slightly more supportive long-range weather trends overnight.

Estimates for the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) weekly storage report, scheduled for release at 10:30 a.m. ET, have suggested a withdrawal in the low to mid 80s Bcf range.

EBW Analytics Group projected an 81 Bcf draw, and Kyle Cooper of IAF Advisors expected a 79 Bcf pull. A Bloomberg survey of 10 market participants showed a withdrawal range of 72 Bcf to 95 Bcf, and a median of 85 Bcf. A Reuters poll of 18 market participants had a withdrawal range of 74 Bcf to 102 Bcf, and a median of 84 Bcf.

Last year, the EIA reported a 59 Bcf draw, and the five-year average sits at 79 Bcf. As of Nov. 30, inventories stood at 2,991 Bcf, 704 Bcf below last year and 725 below the five-year average.

“It was colder than normal across the western, central and northeastern U.S., while warmer than normal across much of the southern and east-central U.S.” during the week’s reporting period, according to NatGasWeather. “Our algorithm sees it toward the bullish side at an 87 Bcf withdrawal.”

As for the overnight weather data, the forecaster noted “minor changes” but pointed to stronger cooling over the East early next week and again around Christmas, although the East is seen warming from Dec. 26-28 as cold shifts over the west-central United States.

“There’s still expected to be very cold air over Canada during the last week of December, so colder trends in time could occur with just the slightest shift southward of the frigid cold pool,” NatGasWeather said.

Such a southward shift for this frigid cold would see heating demand expectations “rapidly increase. While the Dec. 23-27 setup isn’t bearish, the natural gas markets are likely disappointed since they were hearing fodder of more impressive cold early in the week even though the data at that point was inconsistent and had more to prove.”

NatGasWeather said it expects another day of volatile trading Thursday given the release of the EIA report and any potential shifts in the early morning and midday weather data, where it said the “risk is toward colder versus warmer.”

Bespoke Weather Services said the overnight guidance “modestly” increased long-range gas-weighted degree day (GWDD) expectations, though the firm noted lingering ridging in the East shown in European and Canadian guidance that could limit cold into the region.

“Generally, we do expect colder trends to win out moving into early January, but it looks to happen gradually, with risks of a brief eastern ridge limiting how bullish forecasts can look,” Bespoke said. “Our sentiment has now flipped fully neutral, and if anything may sit between neutral and slightly bullish as we see overnight weather model guidance as providing enough fodder for a test of $4.25 support-turned-resistance.”

January crude oil was trading 57 cents lower at $50.58/bbl shortly before 9 a.m. ET Thursday, while January RBOB gasoline was down fractionally to $1.4161/gal.