With fresh private and government forecasts for a return of winter chill, cash market averages on Monday for Tuesday delivery showed gains dominating much of the country with the exception of some northeastern points, which posted a number of $1-plus declines.

With some points in the Northeast declining by nearly $1.60 on Monday, it appeared some traders were still responding to last week’s significant drop in natural gas futures values. The March contract lost 61.9 cents, or nearly 11% of its value for the week ending Jan. 29. If Northeast cash points on Monday were responding to last week’s futures action, then trading on Tuesday should be a bit more interesting. With forecasts turning to the colder following the weekend, March natural gas futures did a 180 degree turn on Monday by gaining 30.3 cents to close the regular session at $5.434.

Elsewhere, cash point averages climbed mostly from a few pennies to about a dime as traders banked on another plunge of cold air. The calls for cold were backed up by a number of forecasters, including Joe Bastardi, expert senior meteorologist and long range forecaster for AccuWeather.com.

Bastardi said that after coming back from the “coldest weekend felt this winter from Boston to Washington, DC,” February temperatures will continue to plummet for much of the heaviest energy-demanding U.S. regions.

“The current pattern will produce a top-ten cold February, not seen in the last 50 years,” Bastardi said. “There is potential for the cold to become even more extreme.” The forecaster noted that “the thaw is over for now” and that he believes “the physical drivers are all there for a major cold month, much like this December was.”

One Northeast broker said that despite some declines elsewhere, his points moved higher Monday. “It kind of went up with the screen, which had a pretty strong day,” he said. “We had a cold weekend and the week has started off below normal. It is supposed to stay that way for the rest of the week for the region. It looks like after a brief respite, we’ve reentered a pretty steady cold winter pattern.”

The trader added that while some traders got a little nervous a few weeks ago following back-to-back 200 Bcf-plus storage draws, the national inventory situation looks like it will weather whatever the rest of winter has to bring. “On a macro scale, I think we’ve got enough gas to finish this season comfortably,” he said. “As for my company, we’re fine as well. We have plenty of gas.”

From the looks of things, producers are also continuing to ramp up drilling operations. The number of drilling rigs seeking natural gas in the U.S. rose by 28 during the week ending Jan. 29, according to the Baker Hughes Rotary Rig Count. All of the additions occurred onshore as the Gulf of Mexico tally was unchanged. The latest Baker Hughes count was up 13% from a month ago but 25% less than the year-earlier level.

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