The Energy Information Administration (EIA) said natural gas inventories rose by 129 Bcf for the week ending Sept. 30, once again surpassing consensus estimates ahead of the report.

Nymex natural gas futures were trading about 4.0 cents higher at around $6.970 in the minutes leading up to the EIA report, then slipped modestly as the storage print hit the screen. However, the dip was brief and prices quickly started trending upward again. By 11 a.m. ET, the November Nymex contract was trading at $7.085/MMBtu, up 15.5 cents from Wednesday’s close.

Perplexed by the rally, one Enelyst participant said, “these numbers are not bullish.”

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Ahead of the report, estimates were wide ranging. A Bloomberg survey of seven analysts produced a range of injection estimates from 95 Bcf to 129 Bcf, with a median build of 125 Bcf. Reuters polled 15 analysts, whose estimates ranged from injections of 94 Bcf to 131 Bcf, with a median forecast of 111 Bcf.

The EIA recorded a build of 114 Bcf during the same week a year ago, while the five-year average stands at 87 Bcf.

The South Central led all other regions with a plump 45 Bcf net injection into storage, which sliced the overall deficit to the five-year average to only 6.6%, according to EIA. Notably, salts remain more than 15% below the five-year average, but they added 21 Bcf to inventories. Nonsalts added 24 Bcf.

The Midwest injected a plump 37 Bcf into storage and trimmed the regional deficit to the five-year average to only 5.6%. The East added 35 Bcf to inventories and cut the deficit to the five-year average to 9.2%. The Mountain and Pacific regions each rose by single digits.

Criterion Research LLC’s James Bevan, director of research, attributed some of the miss to the market underestimating the amount of lost demand stemming from Hurricane Ian, which made landfall near Fort Myers, FL, on Sept. 28. 

Speaking on online energy chat Enelyst, Bevan noted that although Florida utilities restored power to most affected customers within days, temperatures in the wake of the storm cooled significantly.

The low-high temperature range dropping from “75-95 degrees to an expected October range of 65-80 degrees…goes toward explaining the low demand nominations and modeled numbers,” according to Bevan.

“The on-pipe demand has failed to ramp back toward pre-storm levels. Visible pipeline flows are flat at 3 Bcf/d, which is down 0.5-1.0 Bcf/d from pre-storm levels due to a mix of demand destruction and cooler weather in the state,” he said.

Total working gas in storage rose to 3,106 Bcf, which is 165 Bcf below year-earlier levels and 264 Bcf below the five-year average, EIA said.