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Tumbling East, Northeast Outgun Broader Gains; Futures Up

Overall physical gas prices fell about a nickel in Monday's trading for Tuesday delivery, but the market was punctuated by wide swings. In western producing regions and California stout double digit gains were seen, but in market areas such as Chicago and the East moderating temperature trends prompted multi-dollar losses at some points. At the close of futures trading April had risen 11.1 cents to $4.536 and May was higher by 8.9 cents to $4.492. April crude oil tumbled 81 cents to $98.08/bbl.

Next-day prices in New England skidded, and although forecasts called for unseasonable cold, rising temperature trends were enough to cause prices to realign. The National Weather Service in Boston said "Dry and unseasonably cold weather will continue into [Tuesday]. Seasonable for Wednesday with a rain/snow disturbance for Wednesday night. Mild on Thursday and seasonable Friday prior to another weather disturbance Saturday. Unseasonably cold beginning Sunday into early next week."

Wunderground.com forecast that the high in Boston Monday of 28 would rise to 35 on Tuesday and by Wednesday would reach 43. The normal high in Boston is 46. New York City's 35 high on Monday was predicted to make it to 43 on Tuesday and 45 by Wednesday. The normal mid-March high in New York, however, is 50. Baltimore high reading Monday of 33 was seen jumping to 44 Tuesday and 46 on Wednesday. The seasonal high in Baltimore is 54.

At the Algonquin Citygates Tuesday prices fell $5.54 to $14.55 and deliveries to Iroquois Waddington shed $3.10 to $6.34.

Forecasters in the Midwest see the pace of seasonal warming as inordinately slow, although temperatures are expected to make steady, albeit slow, rise over the next couple of days. Wunderground.com said Monday's high in Minneapolis of 36 would make it to 39 on Tuesday and 39 on Wednesday. The normal high in Minneapolis this time of year is 42. Chicago's Monday high of 33 was anticipated to jump to 49 Tuesday before sliding back to 43 on Wednesday. The seasonal high in Chicago is 47. Detroit's high Monday of 30 was expected to surge to 45 on Tuesday before  rising to 48 on Wednesday. The normal mid-March high for Detroit is 43.

Tom Skilling of the Chicago Weather Center on his Facebook page said "The seasonal warming process continues at an inordinately sluggish pace-and there's little chance that's likely to change in the next 2 weeks. There may be several mild days interspersed, but the overall pattern favors temps continue in their cool ways. March--typically the area's fastest warming month--is running 8.2-deg below normal. 13 of its first 16 days have registered daily temp deficits. And model forecasts, which raise the hope of a 50-deg day Tuesday continue to indicate colder than normal temps. An average of multiple-model temp departure forecasts indicates Day 1-5: 1.6-deg below normal; Days 6-10: 13.2-deg below normal and Days 11-15: 4.1-deg below normal."

Deliveries on Alliance fell 7 cents to $5.20 and gas at Joliet dropped 6 cents to $5.19. Gas at the Chicago Citygates for Tuesday fell 3 cents to $4.69 and packages at Northern Natural Ventura were down by 10 cents to $4.66.

Next-day gas prices in California rose as a continuing drought forces less use of hydro power and greater consumption of natural gas. The California Department of Water Resources reported that the snow water equivalent statewide currently stands at a meager 7.6 inches. The snowpack is 27% of its April 1 norm, and 28% of normal for this date.

Next-day prices at the PG&E Citygates jumped 26 cents to $5.03 and Tuesday parcels at the SoCal Citygates rose 37 cents to $4.83. At the SoCal Border gas changed hands at $4.64, up 30 cents and on El Paso S Mainline next-day gas was seen at $4.65, up 32 cents.

Futures traders acknowledge the cold, but don't see it holding up prices too much longer. "Most of the day's rally was in place before we got here," said a New York floor trader.

"It held the gains for the entire day, but winter is coming to an end and I think we'll have a pretty good sell off before we rally into the spring or summer season. I think $4.25 would be a good place to fall back to."

More extended weather forecasts turned cooler over the weekend. In its morning 11- to 15-day outlook Commodity Weather Group forecast a more aggressive invasion of cold air in the form of a ridge centered over Michigan and reaching all the way to the Deep South. "The big story today is the stronger cold outbreak starting this coming weekend and continuing deep into next week for the Midwest, East, and South," said Matt Rogers president of the firm.

"The key change over this past weekend was a temporary rebuild of a West Coast ridge (the gatekeeper) that offers a hiatus in warmer Pacific influences. This allows the already-present Alaska ridge and Hudson Bay low combo to send down an impressive late season cold push for the Midwest, South, and East that seems like it could come very close to rivaling or exceeding last year's late March cold outbreak. The details will likely still be worked out in the days to come, but the models are in good agreement this morning on a significant event that essentially guarantees March 2014 to be the coldest of the 2000s and the coldest since 1996's impressive month."

Addison Armstrong of Tradition Energy in a morning note to clients observed that "Gas prices have now rebounded nearly 20 cents from last week's seven-week low at $4.341 as traders refocus on severely depleted storage levels and expectations of lingering cold weather across the primary gas consuming regions of the country. But rising production of gas that is expected to push above 68 Bcf/d this year, plus the anticipated drop-off in seasonal demand later during shoulder season will likely provide some resistance to rising gas prices."

Mike DeVooght of DEVO Capital, a Colorado-based trading and risk management firm sees "The market remain[ing] in a short term trend lower and we will continue to hold our short positions." He suggests trading accounts hold a short April futures position from $5.0 to $5.10 and end users should stand aside, while counseling producers and those with exposure to lower prices to hold short an initial short April-October strip at $4.20 to $4.30 and also a second short summer strip at $4.50.

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