Following a holiday-shortened trading week in which several points ran contrary to overall market direction each day, all points were on the same price movement page Monday -- moving higher, that is. Forecasts of cold weather featuring snow showers Tuesday in parts of the West and Midwest and in much of the Northeast were the primary driver of cash firmness, although a small futures gain Friday and the return of industrial load from its typical weekend absence also contributed a bit of support.

Upticks that tended to be smallest in the West ranged from a little less than a nickel to about 30 cents. Gains were spread fairly evenly among the Gulf Coast, Northeast and Midcontinent/Midwest. Northeast citygates recorded the largest increases.

Not only will it be cold Tuesday across much of the West, but it will be stormy also with high winds across parts of Southern California and the Southwest, according to The Weather Channel. Snow levels will be light but fairly widespread in the region, the forecasting service said. Heating load also will be plentiful in northern market areas, with Chicago and Boston expected to repeat Monday's lows in the low 20s and mid 20s, respectively, on Tuesday. The South will remain the odd region out when it comes to significant heating demand, with above-average temperatures expected to continue.

Physical gas may be hard-pressed to continue its advance Tuesday, with March natural gas futures ignoring moderate strength in Nymex's petroleum product offerings to expire Monday at $7.547, down 20.8 cents from Friday's close. Despite their final-day loss, March futures hinted at rising first-of-month indexes, since they settled 63 cents higher than where the February contract went off the board.

A sign that most of the current winter's severe weather is now in past tense is that the market began the week with no weather-related transportation constraints in sight.

"It's kind of chilly in most places," and that drove the cash market higher, said a marketer, who noted that mildness in the South is the most significant exception to good heating load continuing to strengthen the market. He expects cash quotes to be following the screen lower Tuesday, but observed there was a little strength in April futures, which finished the day about 15 cents above where the March contract went off the board.

March bidweek numbers on Monday were "up a little bit" from Friday, the marketer said. His company finished all March baseload business Monday.

A utility buyer in the Lower Midwest said his company was not making any baseload purchases from March, since its anticipated needs continue to be covered largely by term contracts and storage. A few of the contracts will expire when March ends, but others last year-round, he said. March is obviously a lower demand period than January "but still about three times the load of a typical summer month," the marketer added. His area is still capable of seeing freezing temperatures well into March, he said, and is currently experiencing lows around 20 and highs in the 30s. The utility will supplement March supplies as necessary from the spot market, he said.

A Southern utility buyer also said his company wasn't in the bidweek market, as its requirements are still covered by winter term contracts entering their final month. March is also generally a low-demand month in his area but can be very volatile in pricing, he said. Cold and warm days will tend to be mixed up, the buyer said, so he probably will be participating in the daily market more than usual.

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