February natural gas early Monday struggled to hold onto recent gains as long-range weather models were slow to show sustained cold moving into the country. The Nymex February gas futures contract was trading at $2.965, down 7.9 cents, just before 9 a.m. ET.

Although American and Canadian weather guidance continued to show significant cold temperature risks through Week 2, European guidance thus far has been more stubborn in showing warmth lingering longer, according to Bespoke Weather Services. This is the same guidance that has been performing quite well as of late, which is why it remains highly weighted in the firm’s gas-weighted degree day forecasts. Even by the end of the run, however, the model is showing an upstream negative Eastern Pacific Oscillation begin to return, which could force cold into the East.

“The main issue is that the bulk of cold continues to get pushed to late Week 2 into early Week 3 after a brief short-term cold shot, meaning we need to see these cold risks roll forward in a more pronounced way before they can become more bullish,” Bespoke chief meteorologist Jacob Meisel said. “Increasingly past Jan. 15 they should, but it is taking a bit more time than expected.”

Still, a decent cold shot forecast later this week should finally help provide a bid for cash prices and maybe a bounce for the front of the futures strip, especially with production still off highs.  Thursday’s storage report, however, is again unlikely to be that impressive, and until there is a more sustained cold signal that can last into the long-range, “it will be hard for prices to sustain a break above $3.”

For its part, NatGasWeather said the next two weekly storage withdrawals are expected to be much lighter than five-year averages, and deficits could rapidly improve toward 400 Bcf after being at 720 Bcf just a couple weeks ago.

EBW Analytics Group painted a far more bearish storage scenario playing out in the next couple of months, noting that the heart of the winter heating season is eight to 10 weeks long -- from late December until early to mid-February.

“By the end of the current five-week warm period, the year/year storage deficit is likely to be eliminated,” EBW CEO Andy Weissman said. “Even if cold weather returns by late January, there is too little time left for a major storage crunch to occur this winter, reducing to near zero the likelihood of prices reaching December's highs.”

For now, Bespoke sees cold weather as likely to roll forward as the week progresses. Given current balances, it sees $3.10 and probably $3.25 in play over the next week or two, “but cold must build for confidence to rise.”

Crude oil futures were trading more than $1 higher at around $49/bbl, and RBOB gasoline futures were trading more than 3 cents higher at around $1.38.