February Nymex natural gas futures were trading sharply lower early Monday, down 25.7 cents to $2.921/MMBtu shortly before 9 a.m. ET as forecasters were pointing to a major drop-off in medium range demand expectations over the weekend.

The latest six- to 10-day outlook from Radiant Solutions featured “significant warm changes” compared to Friday’s forecast, and showed additional warming versus Sunday’s report.

“This comes in response to a lifting of the polar vortex northward and an increasingly active storm track into North America,” the forecaster said. “The first disturbance enters the West at the start of the period and quickly sends moisture eastward toward the Midwest by mid-period.

“Temperatures are forecast to rise into the above and in some cases strong above normal categories out ahead of this disturbance; although, troughing left in its wake has belows gaining coverage” over the western half of the country late in the period.

The data had been mixed on the Feb. 3-8 period prior to the weekend, with the Global Forecast System (GFS) showing a milder ridge building across the southern and eastern part of the country and the European model favoring cold holding across the northern United States, NatGasWeather said.

“The GFS won out over the weekend with a pronounced milder break showing up” this weekend and into next week that would see frigid air shift over lower population regions in the Rockies and Plains, NatGasWeather said. “…So, while the coldest polar blast of the year is knocking on the door, the markets are certain to be disappointed the data trended milder with a more pronounced break after.”

The current polar cold pattern to close out January should help widen the year-on-five-year average storage deficit back above 400 Bcf over the next two Energy Information Administration storage reports after a recent run of lighter than average withdrawals, NatGasWeather said. But the mild break in early February would shrink deficits once again, the forecaster noted.

Natural gas prices could be in “deep trouble” after the forecasts that helped stabilize the February contract last week warmed significantly over the weekend, according to EBW Analytics Group CEO Andy Weissman.

In Week 2 the “ensembles have completely flipped, with the extreme cold weather expected this week sucking very warm weather into the eastern U.S. for a five to seven day period starting this Friday,” Weissman said. “As a result, the forecast for Week 2” has dropped demand expectations by a “mind-numbing” 96 Bcf.

“While a sell-off today is inevitable, it may be tempered initially by the near-record cold expected this Wednesday and Thursday, which is likely to briefly support cash prices. Prices are likely to sink further, however, as soon as brutally cold weather passes.”

March crude oil was trading $1.04 lower shortly before 9 a.m. ET at $52.65/bbl, while February RBOB gasoline was down about 2 cents to $1.3692/gal.