With the market bracing for the latest government inventory data, and with overnight forecasts mixed, natural gas futures were trading slightly lower early Thursday. The December Nymex contract was down 2.4 cents to $2.535/MMBtu at around 8:30 a.m. ET.

Thursday’s 10:30 a.m. ET Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report is set to officially kick off the withdrawal season in style, according to estimates. Predictions for the report, which covers the week ended Nov. 15, have been pointing to a withdrawal in the upper 80s Bcf.

A Bloomberg survey as of Wednesday afternoon showed a median prediction for an 88 Bcf pull, with estimated withdrawals ranging from 82 Bcf to 99 Bcf. Intercontinental Exchange EIA Financial Weekly Index futures settled Wednesday at minus 87 Bcf. NGI’s model predicted a 101 Bcf withdrawal.

Last year, EIA recorded a 109 Bcf pull for the period, and the five-year average is a withdrawal of 32 Bcf.

An “Arctic blast” of frigid temperatures through much of the Lower 48 last week should account for the larger-than-average withdrawal expected from Thursday’s print, according to NatGasWeather. “Warmer exceptions were found across the West. Our algorithm predicts a withdrawal of 85-88 Bcf but with lower confidence from accounting challenges due to freeze-offs and record lows.”

As for the overnight weather data, guidance trended milder for next week but maintained a chilly outlook for temperatures in early December, the forecaster said.

“It’s difficult to know how the natural gas markets trade today,” NatGasWeather said, pointing to a “tricky EIA report on tap” and overnight data that was “not quite cold enough for the front 10 days of the forecast” but “plenty cold enough” for Dec. 1-5.

Analysts at EBW Analytics Group predicted a slightly larger withdrawal at 94 Bcf for today’s storage report, a number that, if realized, could see Wednesday’s “bounce” in the futures market “continue higher.”

Based on the updated forecasts heading into Thursday’s trading, EBW added 2.3 gas-weighted heating degree days and 2.1 Bcf of demand for the Nov. 29-Dec. 5 period. Forecasts showed “impressive cold building in the Northwest,” the EBW analysts said. “If cold can extend further east, significant gains are possible.

“Weather models continue to show significant variation from run to run, however, potentially increasing volatility for natural gas. Unless models coalesce on a significant, sustained bullish outcome, any near-term gains may soon reverse lower, although retreating prices may not occur until after Thanksgiving.”

January crude oil futures were up 42 cents to $57.43/bbl at around 8:30 a.m. ET, while December RBOB gasoline was trading fractionally lower at $1.6554/gal.