The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a 166 Bcf withdrawal from storage for the week ending Feb. 22. The reported draw compares to the year-ago draw of 85 Bcf and the five-year average draw of 104 Bcf.

The print was on the lower end of a rather tight range of estimates that ranged from a 160 Bcf to 180 Bcf pull. NGI’s model predicted a withdrawal of 167 Bcf.

Natural gas futures traders responded immediately to the slightly lower-than-expected draw, trimming early-morning gains. The Nymex April gas futures contract was trading nearly 3 cents higher at $2.827 just before the storage report’s 10:30 a.m. ET release, but then slid to around $2.81 in the minutes after the print hit the screen. By 11 a.m., the prompt month was trading at $2.816, up 1.7 cents.

“This was at the lower end of expectations and indicates slightly more holiday impact last week than expected,” said Bespoke Weather Services, which had called for a 174 Bcf withdrawal.

A Reuters poll of 19 market analysts showed a withdrawal range of 160 Bcf to 179 Bcf, and a median of 171 Bcf, while a Bloomberg survey of 13 analysts showed a withdrawal range of 165 Bcf to 180 Bcf, with a median draw of 173 Bcf.

The draw across the East underperformed, which Dominion Energy Transmission and Columbia Gas Transmission showed was a risk, according to Bespoke. Elsewhere, the firm still sees a healthy draw, although it is solidly looser than the prior week.

“This is due primarily to the holiday and slightly looser demand-side data, and there may be a small implicit revision following a very bullish number last week as well. Overall, we do not see this number as very bearish as we still see storage levels headed sub-1.1 Tcf by later in March, though tightness is not quite the concern it was before, and increasingly, we see mid-March warmth being able to increase resistance around the $2.85 level,” Bespoke chief meteorologist Jacob Meisel said.

Broken down by region, the EIA reported a 51 Bcf withdrawal in the Midwest, a 51 Bcf draw in the South Central, a 41 Bcf pull in the East and a 16 Bcf pull in the Pacific.

Genscape Inc., which had predicted a 169 Bcf withdrawal, said its daily supply and demand estimates showed 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,” Genscape said.

While the overall 166 Bcf draw was not all that surprising to market observers, the large pulls in the South Central region and Pacific did give some pause to market observers on Enelyst, a social media platform hosted by The Desk.

The Pacific region specifically has seen significant storage drawdowns in recent weeks as wet, chilly conditions continue to drive up demand at the same time that import restrictions have been in place.

Working gas in storage as of Feb. 22 stood at 1,539 Bcf, 154 Bcf below last year and 424 Bcf below the five-year average of 1,963 Bcf, according to EIA.

Looking ahead, market observers said the coming span of frigid air could potentially lead to another 200-plus withdrawal before the end of March. The March 1-7 period will be the second coldest week on a gas-weighted heating degree day (GWDD) basis, with GWDDs coming in at around 235, according to independent weather forecaster Corey Levkof.

Including this week’s 166 Bcf draw, and estimates for the next two storage reports, inventories could shrink by more than 550 Bcf in just a three-week span, analysts said.