With the market turning its attention to a potentially supportive weekly natural gas storage report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), Nymex futures were trading slightly higher early Thursday. The April contract was up 3.1 cents to $2.830/MMBtu just after 8:30 a.m. ET.

Estimates for this week’s EIA data, due at 10:30 a.m. ET, point to a much larger-than-normal withdrawal for the week ending Feb. 22. A Reuters poll of 19 market analysts showed a withdrawal range of 160 Bcf to 179 Bcf, and a median of 171 Bcf. A Bloomberg survey of 13 analysts showed a withdrawal range of 165 Bcf to 180 Bcf, with a median draw of 173 Bcf. For the year-ago period, EIA recorded a withdrawal of 85 Bcf, and the five-year average is a decrease of 104 Bcf.

Intercontinental Exchange EIA financial weekly index futures settled Wednesday at a withdrawal of 175 Bcf, while NGI’s model predicted a withdrawal of 167 Bcf.

Genscape Inc. predicted a 169 Bcf withdrawal, with the firm’s daily supply and demand estimates showing a 0.6 Bcf/d production increase week/week for the period, along with a 0.3 Bcf/d increase in imports from Canada.

“Demand was relatively flat week on week, with a modest uptick in power burn,” and liquefied natural gas sendout “somewhat offset by lower residential/commercial demand and flat industrial demand and exports from Mexico,” according to Genscape. “If realized, a 169 Bcf withdrawal will come in about 1.4 Bcf/d looser than the five-year average.”

As for the latest weather data heading into Thursday’s trading, Bespoke Weather Services observed mixed trends in the various models. Canadian guidance maintained some cold risks, showing a pattern that could prevent temperatures from climbing much above normal later this month, according to the forecaster.

“Even still, through Week 2 it will be easy for warmth to build across the East,” and even average gas-weighted degree day (GWDD) totals “become less impressive” once mid-March rolls round, Bespoke said. “Such eastern ridging looks likely to increase into Week 3” as influence from the Madden-Julian oscillation becomes “more apparent, meaning GWDD losses appear more likely from here on out.”

Tighter balances and a potentially large withdrawal from EIA present upside risks as forecasts haven’t warmed as much as expected, according to Bespoke, but “any upside still appears short-term with expectations that the East still warms throughout March.”

Temperatures may be expected to warm up later this month, but for the time being the gas market is “hunkering down” for a very cold start to March, EBW Analytics Group CEO Andy Weissman noted.

“Near-record cold weather for early March is starting to descend into the central United States, with the coldest expected days beginning this weekend and continuing throughout most of next week,” Weissman said. “This extreme cold weather could help sustain Nymex natural gas prices near current levels for several days.

“By the middle of next week, however, the coldest days will be behind us, allowing prices to start settling down again.”

As of around 8:30 a.m. ET Thursday, April crude oil was trading 6 cents lower at $56.88/bbl, while March RBOB gasoline was off fractionally at $1.6338/gal.