It appeared pretty certain that the New Year's holiday weekend weather would be noticeably milder than that of the previous week. Yet Northeast citygates essentially halted their headlong plunges from a day earlier, and small gains dominated mixed movement in the rest of the market with few points straying very far on either side from flat.

Transco's non-New York pool was well out in front of losses ranging from 2-3 cents to a little shy of a quarter; the rest were capped around a nickel or less.

Despite the weakening of industrial load, especially during a holiday weekend, traders must have felt that was still outweighed by enough heating demand to keep most of the market flat to about 20 cents higher. The previous day's drop of 0.1 cent by February futures was negligible to the cash market.

Because of timing on the succession of a new month (not to mention a new year), Thursday's trading was done for flows Saturday through Monday.

It appeared to be bearish when the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a storage withdrawal of 136 Bcf for the week ending Dec. 24; it not only fell short of consensus expectations in the mid 140s Bcf but was well below the 184 Bcf pull reported a week earlier. However, February futures, which had been modestly higher in early Thursday trade, fell on the report, but rallied in the afternoon for a final gain of 5.1 cents on the day (see related story).

Northern Natural Gas would have System Overrun Limitations in effect in all zones Jan. 1-3 (see Transportation Notes) as it anticipated a system-weighted average temperature of 2 degrees on New Year's Day. Other cold weather pipe constraints were being ended. But although Southern canceled a Type 6 OFO, the pipeline projected that it was "highly likely" that a new one for long imbalances could be issued for Saturday and Sunday.

Although no severe cold deviations are anticipated, the National Weather Service's (NWS) six- to 10-day forecast for Jan. 4-8 indicates moderately below-normal conditions along the West Coast from Oregon south and extending through most of the West into the central Midcontinent and also throughout the Southeast east of a line arcing from the southeastern corner of Texas into the lower end of the Northeast. Above-normal readings are due only in northern Maine, NWS said.

A marketer in the eastern reaches of the Midwest said one local sign of easing severe cold was that the ground was gradually going from white to brown because the snow covering is thawing enough to allow patches of dirt underneath to show through.

After plunging nearly $2.50 on Wednesday, Algonquin citygate quotes fell only a couple of cents or so Thursday, but IntercontinentalExchange (ICE) trading volumes dropped by more than 100,000 MMBtu from 208,300 MMBtu Wednesday to 107,300 MMBtu Thursday, the online platform said.

On the other hand, the Southern California border recorded a gain of a little less than a nickel, ICE said, but its activity experienced an even bigger plunge from 452,600 MMBtu to 301,000 MMBtu.

For the fourth week in a row Baker Hughes counted a drop in the number of rigs engaged in the U.S. search for gas. The decline of 12 during the week ending Dec. 30 took the tally down to 919 (see related story).

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