There seemed to be some sameness in Tuesday's and Wednesday's market patterns, but it was sort of like looking at the price table in a mirror. The locations that had taken most of the falls Tuesday were in rally mode Wednesday, while the small increases that had dominated the rest of the market Tuesday fell by mostly greater amounts Wednesday.

Although forecasts of a very cold January were much more prevalent coming out of the holiday weekend, such predictions were starting to look more "iffy" on Wednesday. Prior-day screen support for the cash market had also shrunk to minuscule gain of 1.9 cents.

A flat CenterPoint-South joined several Northeast citygates rising as much as 35 cents in avoiding the overall softness. Otherwise, losses ranged from a little less than a nickel to about 15 cents, with a modestly warming Rockies market taking most of the largest price hits.

With temperatures due to fall a bit in the Midwest and Northeast, and static readings continuing in the South and much of the West, Thursday price movement may depend mainly on the local weather mode. One thing is certain, though; the physical market will have negative guidance from futures after the prompt-month took a dive of 19.6 cents amid general strength in the rest of Nymex's energy complex (see related story).

The National Weather Service's (NWS) outlook for Jan. 11-15 still had a large blue swath (indicating below-normal temperatures) from the eastern Pacific Northwest and Upper Plains through the central U.S. to the East Coast from Maryland south. But noticeably absent from that area was the Northeast along with most of the Upper Midwest and West.

Kern River added the Opal, WY, area to five other short-term forecasts at key locations on its system: Los Angeles, Denver. Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, UT and Sacramento, CA. High/low predictions at Opal of 29/1 Wednesday and 33/3 Thursday indicate the possibility of some wellhead freeze-offs, but that threat should be easing as the Friday projection is for 34/14.

A Midwest utility buyer said her company actually was "quite happy with winter so far" because the service area was not buried under three feet of snow like last January. The utility had a bit of trouble with its forecasters missing the mark on an onslaught of cold last weekend, she said; it arrived a day earlier and 10 degrees colder than they expected.

But the utility must be prepared for rapid and drastic variations in weather load, she said. The buyer recalled that a little before mid-December it had one day of 115 MMcf in throughput, representing a typical moderately cool day; but on the following day temperatures had dropped so far and so fast that volumes more than doubled to 250 MMcf.

Recent prices have been so low that the company bought spot gas because it usually was cheaper than what was being held in storage. "But we can't keep that up much longer" because the storage must be used to avoid paying carrying costs of 40 cents/Mcf per month on it through the end of withdrawal season.

Teri Viswanath and Stefan Revielle of Credit Suisse predict a 117 Bcf storage draw for the week ending Dec. 31, while the estimate of Kyle Cooper of IAF Advisors is 128 Bcf.

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