Those who suspected Thursday that the week’s upward price momentum was starting to fade go to the head of the class. After four straight days of rising quotes at nearly all points, softness set in Friday across the board. Declines ranged from about a nickel to a quarter, with a majority being in the teens.

Lower industrial load over a weekend, a modestly bearish storage report the day before and its accompanying screen drop of more than 15 cents set the stage for Friday’s cash declines, sources said.

It was rather ironic that prices retreated just as weather fundamentals were getting a bit stronger. More than a week after the official start of spring, there were still reminders of winter making the rounds. That was illustrated Friday morning on The Weather Channel’s web site, which displayed a streaming list of states where winter storm alerts had been posted: California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Lows in the 30s and 40s were expected to persist into the weekend across much of the Midwest and Northeast.

The market was quiet at the end of the week. Several traders had already left their offices for the weekend by mid-afternoon Friday.

But, uh, oh. Colorado State University researchers are not only predicting an above-average number of named storms in the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season, but they also look for an above-average probability of them making U.S. landfall (see related story). Along the Gulf Coast (Florida Panhandle to Brownsville, TX) the researchers see a 40% chance of a hurricane making landfall; the 100-year average trend is 30%.

“Lovin’ that spring weather!” said tongue-in-cheek forecasting firm Weather 2000 in a Friday advisory, noting that cold rain, snow showers, highs in the 30s and 40s and lake-effect snows were still being experienced. “The transition month of April is traditionally the battleground for the forces of winter to engage the forces of summer,” it continued. “Coming out of the recent volatile and cold winter, it’s easy to say the forces of winter are getting their last licks in.

“Cut-off upper level lows are bringing widespread cloudiness and heavy rains across the Northeastern [quarter] of the nation, and they are taking their time doing so. The largest impact these lows have on spring temperatures are on daytime highs, as heavy cloud layers drastically block the usually warm spring sun…Next week, however, winter sends down reinforcements from Canada, as the jet stream invigorates the Northeast low with more chilly air. As a result, temperatures will be well below normal over the next 10 days for the eastern half of the nation.”

But Weather 2000 also observed that as the middle of the month approaches, “the forces of spring attempt a comeback, and a southwesterly flow [of air] will bring temperatures back to seasonable levels.”

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