Natural gas futures were slightly higher early Friday, likely in response to oversold positions after Thursday’s slaying, but also perhaps in response to another flip in weather outlooks. The Nymex March gas futures contract was trading more than 3 cents higher at around $2.59 just before 8:30 a.m. ET. April was up about 3 cents to around $2.60.

With such modest shifts, the market appeared to be catching its breath after yesterday’s one-two punch of milder-trending weather outlooks and a smaller-than-expected storage withdrawal. The ensuing 11-cent decline was the most for the March contract in nearly three weeks.

The weather data overnight Thursday maintained a frigid pattern for the next several days as a strong cold blast sweeps across the country and also trended back a bit colder for Feb. 18-22.  Next week, however, continues to trend milder, especially across the South and East and where the pattern stands out as not cold enough, according to NatGasWeather.

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“Also of important consideration, while the coming pattern isn’t as frigid as it has been, it doesn’t have to be as five-year average draws quickly drop to only 104 Bcf for the Energy Information Administration (EIA) report three weeks out, a much easier mark to exceed,” the firm said.

The EIA on Thursday reported a 237 Bcf withdrawal from storage inventories for the week ending Feb. 1, a week marked by the coldest temperatures of the winter so far. Inventories stood at 1,960 Bcf, 135 Bcf below last year and 415 Bcf below the five-year average, according to EIA. The reported draw was about 10 Bcf off the mark of the majority of estimates, and traders responded by sending prices another few cents lower soon after the report.

Looking ahead, NatGasWeather sees the net result of the coming weather pattern to continue to drop supplies toward 1.3-1.4 Tcf by winter’s end. Specifically, deficits are likely to tighten back to around 330 Bcf next week because of very warm southern and eastern United States temperatures this past week. Deficits are likely to again increase in the weeks after since five-year average draws will be much smaller and easier to exceed with just modest cold shots.

Indeed, the long-range pattern remained favorable enough for significant cold from the Midwest that could flood into the East, as the signal remained for a weak negative North Atlantic Oscillation that could suppress any southeastern ridge in the medium term and allow cold to return, according to Bespoke Weather Services.

“This actually fits better with our ideas in that tropical forcing should become more favorable for cold through the second half of the month, so we would look for the Week 2 and Week 3 forecasts to continue cooling into the weekend,” Bespoke chief meteorologist Jacob Meisel said.

The firm’s sentiment has ticked back slightly bullish, and though a solid number of gas-weighted degree days (GWDD) were lost overnight, it is beginning to see evidence of liquefied natural gas exports set to return as balances tighten up on this short-term cold shot. Additionally, long-range cold risks have been increasing as models are better picking up on the impact of a “Phase 8-1 propagation” in the Madden Julian Oscillation, and it expects those trends to continue during the weekend.

As such, a floor should be set up for the March natural gas contract around the $2.55 level. Cash should be a bit firmer on Friday as well with burns ticking up, imports still down, production off highs and exports recovering.

“This has us finally see some cash support today and unless afternoon model guidance either loses significantly more GWDDs or trends in a more bearish direction in the long-range pattern, we see prices attempting to bottom today into the weekend, with any colder trends finally allowing prices to sustain a bounce into next week,” Meisel said.

Crude oil futures were trading about 7 cents lower at around $52.65/bbl, and RBOB gasoline futures were trading three-tenths of a cent higher at around $1.43/gal.