Natural gas futures were soaring higher in early trading Monday after a bullish shift in forecasts over the weekend raised the prospect of upcoming cold reaching more populated areas of the eastern Lower 48. The March Nymex contract was up 19.5 cents to $2.759/MMBtu at around 8:45 a.m. ET.

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Over the weekend weather models increased demand expectations by showing upcoming cold temperatures traveling further east, Wood Mackenzie analyst Dan Spangler said in a note to clients early Monday.

Compared to Friday’s projections, the latest model runs added around 18 heating degree days to the outlook, with the increased demand “driven by the population heavy East and Midwest regions,” Spangler said. “The unseasonably cold weather is expected to arrive this weekend and stick around through next week…The polar blast could mark some of the coldest temperatures seen this winter in much of the U.S.”

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In addition to driving up heating demand, the cold blast could impact production by increasing the risk of freeze-offs, the analyst said.

“Freeze-off impacts have been low this year as weather has been mild, but the polar air could change that later this week,” Spangler said.

Bespoke Weather Services said it added more than 20 gas-weighted degree days to its official forecast based on the colder shift in guidance over the weekend.

“The main source of the change is a much stronger” negative North Atlantic Oscillation block, Bespoke said. “As a result, the cold that dumps into the nation this weekend is unable to lift out quickly, getting stuck longer in the Midwest to East.”

As of early Monday the March contract had more than erased the 10.0-cent loss recorded during Friday’s session.

“When considering that the selloff Friday seemed overdone even before these changes, the recipe was there for a large move, and it may not be finished yet, as there is potential for additional cold around the middle of the month, though location is unclear,” Bespoke said.

Analysts at EBW Analytics Group said the market appeared to be “reacting cautiously” to the significantly colder shift in the weather models. They pegged resistance for the March contract at $2.78 and noted that prices were “struggling” to break through this level as of early Monday.

“Further, after recent huge gains, the models could lose” degree days later in the day, the EBW analysts said. “Over the next few days, however, the odds of further price increases are high.”

March crude oil futures were up 30 cents to $52.50/bbl at around 8:45 a.m. ET, while March RBOB gasoline was up about 1.9 cents to $1.5720/gal.