A few flat to a little more than a dime higher western points notwithstanding, most of the cash market continued to sink Monday as what appeared to be the last vestiges of winter weather receded into the distance. Although one forecaster believed winter had one last blast of cold conditions left in it for next week, most traders were discounting any major surge of demand before spring officially arrives March 20.

Following Florida Gas Transmission’s (FGT) weekend elimination of an Overage Alert Day (see Transportation Notes), the Florida citygate was way out in front of Monday’s softness with a plunge of about 55 cents. Otherwise losses were limited to a range of a little less than a nickel to a little more than 20 cents.

Besides the FGT action, MRT said warm weather in its service area was responsible for its implementation of a System Protection Warning during the weekend (see Transportation Notes).

The 1.8-cent gain by April futures Friday obviously provided little support for Monday’s cash market, and traders will have negative screen guidance Tuesday after the prompt-month contract fell 6.6 cents Monday (see related story).

Sub-freezing lows were relatively rare in Tuesday forecasts outside the Rockies, Canada and parts of the upper Northeast and northern Plains. Indeed, much of the South can look forward to highs near 70 for a while.

Northern Natural Gas indicated how much the Upper Midwest is beginning to warm up, saying that with a normal system-weighted temperature of 30 degrees at this time of year, it was projecting averages of 36 Sunday, 37 Monday and 40 each Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Weather 2000 forecasting service said a much-anticipated March thaw has commenced for the eastern half of the U.S., but it “will only last a few days.” And despite having net seasonable winter temperatures, Chicago has been remarkably consistent, Weather 2000 said, in registering its 96th consecutive day Sunday without ever reaching 50 degrees, the longest such streak since the 1978-1979 winter.

A Midwestern utility buyer confirmed that his area is “starting to thaw out.” That means heating loads are down for the company, he said, but personally it was nice to have more spring-like conditions arriving. It was a “pretty rough winter, but we’re at the end of it,” he said. The area will be seeing temperatures around 50 this week, he added, so there’s not much chance of a price rally.

A marketer in the Upper Midwest also said temperatures in the 50s Monday were about 10 degrees above normal for her area. Despite the warmer weather, her company was still buying small amounts of spot gas for customers but might be able to cease purchases pretty soon.

The Baker Hughes Rotary Rig Count showed a leap of 21 drilling rigs to 926 seeking natural gas in the U.S. during the week ending March 5. Three units left the Gulf of Mexico search, Baker Hughes said, but that was well outweighed by an onshore increase of 24. Its latest tally was 5% higher than a month ago and, showing an increase from the year-ago level for the first time in about a year, was up 1% from March 6, 2009.

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