Natural gas futures were trading higher early Tuesday, bolstered by an outlook for colder-than-average temperatures to open the month of March. Heading into expiry, the March Nymex contract was up 5.1 cents to $2.887/MMBtu just after 8:30 a.m. ET.

Following colder forecast trends over the weekend, weather models again shifted slightly colder overnight, according to Bespoke Weather Services.

“The overall changes were not as strong as those over the weekend, but again pushed the opening week of March colder yet, making it one of the coldest starts to March seen in the historical record,” Bespoke said. “The tropical forcing of the pattern still lines up nicely with cold across much of the U.S. in this time frame, but also continues to show signs of progressing into a state that would favor milder weather once we move toward the middle of the month.”

With the March contract expiring “there is definitely short-term upside risk into the close today before any reversal occurs,” according to the firm. While Henry Hub cash prices “can stay firm with the cold over the next several days, especially next week when the strongest cold hits, the risk for milder weather into mid March” -- and the potential for higher prices to loosen balances -- “keeps us biased neutral through the coming week overall.”

Looking ahead to Thursday’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report, Energy Aspects issued a preliminary estimate for a pull of 180 Bcf for the week ending Feb. 22.

Recent forecast trends suggest the end-February storage carryout could resemble last year’s end-March carryout. But “pervasive bearish sentiment surrounding the injection season” means late season cold is more likely to relieve downward pressure than drive much upward momentum, according to the firm.

With the end of the traditional heating season approaching, “utility and utility-like storage operators will also be deciding whether to withdraw from inventories or purchase gas in the physical market,” Energy Aspects said. Softer Henry Hub cash prices in the $2.60-2.70 range, where prices have traded for most of February, would likely make physical purchases cheaper than a utility’s weighted-average cost of gas already in storage, the firm said.

“Such a price dynamic may help to keep gas prices bid, especially with another withdrawal on the order of 200 Bcf forecast for the week ending March 8,” Energy Aspects said.

Meanwhile, capacity outages for nuclear plants have ramped up earlier than expected ahead of the typical spring turnaround season, according to Genscape Inc.

“Capacity on outage has risen above 12 GW, a 65% increase in the past seven days alone,” Genscape senior natural gas analyst Rick Margolin said. “Outages are running nearly 8 GW higher than expected, primarily due to sharply decreased output from a handful of plants.”

This year’s spring and fall nuclear turnaround seasons are expected to result in fewer capacity outages compared to the past two years, with outages expected to top out at 18 GW in early April, according to Margolin.

April crude oil was trading 11 cents higher at $55.59/bbl shortly after 8:30 a.m. ET Tuesday, while March RBOB gasoline was was up about 1.6 cents to $1.5615/gal.