Forecasts for cooler -- although only rarely very cold -- weather in several areas caused cash prices to rise by double-digit amounts across the board Wednesday. The spot market also found support from Tuesday's 24.9-cent advance by April futures. End-of-month balancing efforts also likely played a role in market firmness.

Rockies points, where cold conditions are currently most severe in the U.S., recorded the largest increases among overall gains that ranged from about 30 cents to about 95 cents. Denver was expected to repeat Wednesday's low of just below freezing on Thursday, but see its high drop from the mid 50s to the mid 40s.

It may officially be spring now, but you wouldn't know it in parts of the West, where blizzard-like conditions are possible Thursday in Montana and Wyoming and snow will continue to coat the mountains of Utah and western Colorado, The Weather Channel said. Most of the Midwest and Northeast will remain chilly, while the eastern end of the South (Carolinas and Georgia) will also get into the act to some extent when a cold front pulls overnight lows into the 40s. Otherwise, seasonable weather will continue to dampen gas demand.

March may be heading out like a lamb for the most part with relatively moderate springtime temperatures in much of the U.S., said the Weather 2000 consulting firm, but don't be complacent. "Winter should make a northern encore with some anomalous HDDs [heating degree days], wind and even snow [and] ice during the first half of April," it said in a Tuesday advisory. "...The emergence of spring-like weather (in synchrony with the calendar) will be pleasant, but we continue to caution that northern [and] Northeastern states remain vulnerable to anomalous winter-like episodes...through mid-April 2007."

The West achieved its large price gains despite ongoing issues of excess supply -- SoCalGas keeping its high-linepack OFO in place through at least Thursday, Kern River still reporting high linepack systemwide, and Questar's closure of its Clay Basin storage facility to injection nominations through next Monday.

A western trader believed the California market's strength (Southern California border and PG&E citygate up a little more than 35 cents and about 30 cents respectively) may have been based on anticipation that SoCalGas is about to end the maintenance that's limiting storage injections and thus prolonging the OFO. However, it's starting to warm up in Northern California, so the SoCalGas OFO could be replaced by one from PG&E by the weekend, she said.

The trader said her company bought April baseload only in San Juan Basin and indexed everything. Although she had not made any April deals Tuesday, going by the ICE screen it appeared to her that bidweek prices were up Wednesday because of futures strength. She noted that April prices were trading "a good 20 cents" over the corresponding daily cash numbers Wedneday.

A marketer in the Upper Midwest said local weather was "a little cooler" Wedneday following a period of pretty fine conditions with highs in the 70s. In fact, her city recorded a record high for the date on Monday around 77 degrees, she said.

The marketer reported buying April gas at basis of plus 17 cents for Consumers Energy and plus 18 cents for MichCon. Based on the April futures contract's 5.5-cent expiration-day rise to a $7.558 settlement, that would be equivalent to fixed prices in the low $7.70s, she said. "We're not real pleased" about such high prices, she added, "but they are what they are."

Because of Sunday's transition to a new month, Thursday's trading will be for Friday-Saturday flows, to be followed Friday by trading for April 1-2 flow dates.

One pipe where balancing issues may result in softening Thursday is Southern Natural Gas, which said its estimated cumulative system cash-out imbalance for the month was 668,209 dekatherms long as of March 26.

A Reuters survey of 21 industry players found an average expectation of a 16 Bcf storage withdrawal for the week ending March 23. Estimates ranged from a build of 15 Bcf to a draw of 35 Bcf, the news service said. Golden, CO-based Bentek Energy said it looks for a 17 Bcf pull to be reported Thursday morning.

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