As traders prepared to shift their attention to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) latest weekly inventory report, and as the major weather models continued to disagree on the forecast for mid-December, natural gas futures were trading a few cents higher early Thursday. The January Nymex contract was up 3.1 cents to $2.430/MMBtu at around 8:40 a.m. ET.

Predictions suggested EIA will report a much smaller-than-normal withdrawal for the week ended Nov. 29, although the range of estimates is wide.

A Reuters survey of 19 market participants showed withdrawal estimates ranging from 8 Bcf to 33 Bcf, with a median pull of 24 Bcf. A Bloomberg survey of 12 analysts showed withdrawals ranging from 8-29 Bcf, with a median pull of 25 Bcf. NGI projected a pull of 15 Bcf for this week’s report, which is scheduled for a 10:30 a.m. ET release.

Last year, the EIA recorded a 62 Bcf withdrawal in the same week, while the five-year average stands at 41 Bcf.

The impact of the Thanksgiving holiday makes it “tricky” to predict this week’s EIA print, according to NatGasWeather.

“It was mild versus normal over the eastern two-thirds of the U.S., while colder versus normal over the West” during the report period, the forecaster said. “Our algorithm expects minus 15-16 Bcf, slightly bearish.”

As for the overnight guidance, NatGasWeather said the Global Forecast System (GFS) added 6-7 heating degree days (HDD) overnight, coming in “quite cold” over the northern Lower 48 for the Dec. 11-17 time frame. The European model, conversely, showed a “quite seasonal” pattern after Dec. 11-12, putting it a “massive” 40 HDDs milder than the GFS.

“Clearly, one of them is wrong,” NatGasWeather said. “...If the GFS is correct, weather sentiment should be considered bullish. But since the GFS was wrong last time, it has the burden of proving it.”

EBW Analytics Group analysts said the “deep divide” between the American and European datasets was keeping forecast confidence low early Thursday. The firm added 22 Bcf in projected demand for the Dec. 13-19 period based on the latest guidance.

The upcoming EIA data could heavily influence the direction of prices, EBW said.

“Major surveys predict a 21-26 Bcf draw,” EBW analysts said. “We expect a much smaller 14 Bcf withdrawal, while some respected analysts forecast 8-10 Bcf. If the smaller predicted range verifies, gas prices could drop significantly, especially since cash prices are likely to be weak today and tomorrow.”

January crude oil futures were trading 30 cents higher at $58.73/bbl at around 8:40 a.m. ET, while January RBOB gasoline was up about 1.5 cents to $1.6196/gal.