In its last day on the board, May natural gas was set to open Thursday near even at around $2.788, with traders eyeing the 10:30 a.m. ET release of potentially pivotal government storage data. The June contract was set to open up slightly at around $2.812.

Estimates for the Energy Information Administration (EIA) weekly natural gas storage report Thursday point to the withdrawal season extending another week — and well past the typical start of injections.

A Reuters survey of traders and analysts on average predicted a 12 Bcf withdrawal from Lower 48 gas stocks for the week ending April 20, with responses ranging from a pull of 22 Bcf to a 9 Bcf injection. A Bloomberg survey produced a median withdrawal of 11 Bcf, with responses ranging from a 22 Bcf pull to a 5 Bcf build.

Last year, 71 Bcf was injected, while the five-year average is a build of 60 Bcf.

OPIS PointLogic said it expects EIA to report an 11 Bcf withdrawal. IAF Advisors analyst Kyle Cooper called for an 18 Bcf withdrawal, while Price Futures Group senior analyst Phil Flynn called for an injection of 5 Bcf. Intercontinental Exchange EIA storage futures settled Wednesday at a withdrawal of 14 Bcf for the upcoming report.

With the May contract trading in a tight range again Wednesday, EBW Analytics Group CEO Andy Weissman said it appeared “traders held their fire” ahead of the upcoming storage data. The reduced significance of shoulder season weather swings means the storage report “is likely to take on particular significance.

“…A draw significantly above the consensus could send prices shooting through the 200-day moving average, with the June natural gas contract potentially reaching $2.89,” Weissman said in a note to clients Thursday. “With large injections on tap to start soon, however, if this morning’s draw disappoints, the recent slow move higher could stall.”

As for the latest forecast, Radiant Solutions noted “a mix of changes” in its six- to 10-day (May 1-5) outlook Thursday, with temperatures “leaning warmer in the West and cooler in Central. While the East is similar to previous from an overall anomaly perspective, temperatures were further warmed out ahead of” a cold front later in the period.

“At the peak, temperatures are expected to reach the low- to mid-80s along the I-95 corridor from Washington, DC, to Boston in the mid-period, before more seasonal conditions arrive with the front late,” the firm said. “Behind the front, temperatures fall below normal in the second half of the period across the Midcontinent, when warmer themes emerge in the West.”

In the 11-15 day (May 6-10) outlook, Radiant noted cooler changes to “parts of the South and Mid-Atlantic but warmer in the West,” with temperatures overall divided between above normal conditions in the West and near-normal to slightly cooler temperatures in the East.

June crude oil was set to open about 56 cents higher at around $68.61/bbl, while May RBOB gasoline was trading about 1.4 cents higher at around $2.1040/gal.