Little in the way of very cold weather was expected for the opening day of December, but its workday contrast to the long holiday weekend and a residual boost from the screen’s expiration-day strength Tuesday was sufficient to turn the swing market around Wednesday and yield mostly sizeable gains.

Numbers for first-only flow averaged from about a nickel to more than half a dollar above end-of-November pricing, with a large majority of points recording advances in double digits. The largest upticks were clustered in the Northeast, while the Midcontinent/Midwest tended to see the smallest increases.

Northeast prices started very strongly on expectations of cooler weather early this week, with citygates running 60-85 cents over Henry Hub at first, a regional trader said. However, some selling pressure set in during late deals, he added. From the vantage point of five days out, load forecasting for Dec. 1-only flows was difficult in both the power and gas markets, the trader said. He cited thinly staffed pre-holiday trading desks and the start of a new month as contributing to quote ranges of 20-30 cents at many points. The Northeast still hasn’t gotten “really cold” yet, he pointed out. It’s seen frosts and light snows here and there, “but nothing serious.”

A New England utility buyer spotlighted how the market remains dominated by changeable weather trends recently, saying her company was expecting a moderate warm-up Thursday and Friday, followed by colder mercury levels Saturday-Sunday. Regarding the National Weather Service forecast of normal temperatures this week in New England (see below), the buyer commented that “normal” for early December is chilly in her area, but huge heating load was unlikely.

The Energy Information Administration Wednesday reported what a Midcontinent marketer called the “comically low number” of 1 Bcf in storage withdrawals for the previous week. The volume was close to the center of the range of prior expectations, but Nymex traders rather slowly took a bearish view of it, eventually winding up the day with a loss of 12.5 cents. The East Region did all the withdrawing with a 5 Bcf pull, but that was nearly offset by the Producing Region’s 4 Bcf injection. The West Region stood pat with no change.

One source presumably indicated he’s looking for a significantly larger withdrawal in the upcoming EIA report with this observation: “Look at what people were wearing during football games this past weekend and the one prior. That should give you a big hint as to energy usage in the past 10 days or so.”

It was hardly surprising that Wednesday’s activity was quite subdued. Virtually all bidweek business had been wrapped up the day before, deals were being done for a single day instead of a long weekend, and most traders tended to leave by shortly after lunchtime if they hadn’t already taken the day or week off.

The National Weather Service has a rather bearish forecast for the current workweek (Dec. 1-5). The only below normal temperatures it sees in the Lower 48 states is a West Coast strip encompassing Washington, Oregon and the northern half of California. Otherwise NWS predicts above normal readings for most of the rest of the U.S., with the exceptions of normal conditions in New England, Florida along with most of Georgia and South Carolina, and a buffer area in the West stretching from western Montana through Arizona and Southern California.

Contrary to the NWS outlook, the Weather 2000 consulting firm looks for cool to fairly cold weather in the East in the first week of December. “Short waves that bring cooler weather in between more powerful waves are incredibly difficult for [forecasting] models to discern, and as a result temperatures [last] week are coming in cooler across the East than models had projected [during the previous] week, and the first week of December will probably feature the same trends,” Weather 2000 said in an advisory Wednesday.

“As a quantitative example, simply from last night’s model runs to this morning’s [Wednesday] model runs (just analyzed), the average temperature for the entire first 10 days of December were revised colder by two to three degrees/day for the north-central, Northeast, south-central and Southeast quadrants of the nation; a very large swing in 12 hours and for a one-day time period.”

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