The cash market continued this week's roller-coaster ride, returning to a fairly steep uphill track for most locations in recording gains virtually across the board Wednesday. Thursday lows getting to freezing or occasionally lower were the main driver of the bullishness, getting a small extra contribution from Tuesday's screen advance of 3.8 cents.

Flat quotes at Niagara made it the sole point to be left out of gains ranging from a couple of pennies to about 30 cents. The Midcontinent/Midwest, Rockies and Northeast tended to capture the lion's share of upticks of 20 cents or more.

December futures also maintained a zigzag course in prior-day support -- or lack of it -- for cash numbers. Following a dive of a little more than 20 cents Monday and a partial recuperation Tuesday, the prompt-month Nymex ended Wednesday in negative territory again with a loss of 3.4 cents (see related story).

The Midwest, Midcontinent and parts of the South will realize some increases in heating load over the next couple of days as temperatures gradually fall in each area. The Midwest and Midcontinent especially will get a preview of winter conditions as nearly all locations see Thursday overnight lows at least around freezing, with some sections of the Midwest bottoming out in the upper 20s.

However, while remaining on the chilly side, the Northeast, Rockies and eastern and western ends of the South will continue to warm modestly for a while longer. Much of Canada is still cold but due to see temperatures rise a few degrees Thursday.

As of Tuesday afternoon Tropical Storm Tomas was expected to strengthen but instead it regressed to a tropical depression overnight and had begun a west-northwestward turn that was likely to take Tomas eventually more to the north into Haiti, staying well away from Gulf of Mexico production interests.

Saying the Jackson Prairie storage field is full, Northwest asked all customers to "slightly draft the system" beginning immediately.

The Northern Natural Gas bulletin board indicated the oncoming cold spell in the Upper Midwest. Wednesday's projected average of 45 was above the normal system-weighted temperature of 40 degrees, a posting said, but averages are predicted to fall to 36 Thursday and 35 Friday before returning to above normal at 43 Saturday.

Reporting Chicago citygates rising a little more than 20 cents as a freezing low is forecast there for Thursday, IntercontinentalExchange (ICE) said citygate volumes traded on its platform jumped more than 100,000 MMBtu from 813,900 MMBtu in 127 transactions Tuesday to 915,800 MMBtu in 138 deals Wednesday. But Panhandle Eastern, which recorded a slightly larger gain than Chicago, saw volumes barely budge from 277,100 MMBtu to 279,700 MMBtu in the same two days, ICE said.

A utility buyer in the South noted that his company was in the central part of the region where temperatures are trending lower while its Atlantic Coast and Texas bookends will get a bit warmer Thursday. All in all, though, he said, it works about to about normal mid-fall temperatures for the South overall.

Utility gas loads are gradually starting to rise, he said, and the area should see its first freeze of the season Friday night, but highs will be returning to the mid 70s next week.

Teri Viswanath of Credit Suisse expects a 63 Bcf storage build to be reported for the week ending Oct. 29, which she said would bring total working gas inventory to 3,817 Bcf, or 33 Bcf above the year-ago level. Citi Futures Perspective analyst Tim Evans projects a much larger addition of 76 Bcf during that week, to be followed by two much smaller injections of 9 Bcf and 13 Bcf for the weeks ending Nov. 5 and Nov. 12, respectively, before the withdrawal season makes a belated start with a pull of 29 Bcf for the week ending Nov. 19.

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