Tumbling oil prices and the 60% gas storage surplus compared to the five-year average continued to pressure gas futures prices lower Monday as traders overlooked current snowy weather, below normal temperatures and forecasts of an active hurricane season.

The near-month contract dropped 21.8 cents to close near its low for the day at $6.835 with a 17-cent trading range.

“There’s no leadership in this market right now,” said Ed Kennedy of Commercial Brokerage. “We’ve got good buying down around $6.50 — that’s the utilities. We can be 10-15 degrees below normal this week, but we’ve got plenty of gas in storage to handle it. I just can’t see it rallying; I think we are going to continue to go sideways.”

Despite new downward pressure from falling crude oil prices, which dropped $2.52 Monday to $60.25 (April), Kennedy predicts April gas futures will stay in a $6.50-7.40 range through the contract expiration at the end of the month. “Once we get the summer strip down to $7 watch out,” he said. “The last time we were down there, the [utility buyers] came in. And they’re not done buying yet.” June, July and August averaged $7.296 on Monday. Meanwhile, the winter strip (November through next March) averaged $10.251.

“Next winter is way overpriced,” Kennedy added. “Once they establish their injection buying, they are going to go out there and put in some rather attractive profits in their pockets. But I wouldn’t be doing the winter months just yet. The summer months is another story.

“Once we get rid of this contract, we’ll be looking at summer forecasts. Then we’ll start a whole new ballgame.”

The bulls already have some ammunition building up for summer. AccuWeather.com released a new hurricane forecast Monday that calls for greater than normal tropical activity along the East Coast and the Gulf Coast of Texas. Above normal sea temperatures currently are similar to what was seen in the 1930s, 40s and 50s when storms such as the 1938 hurricane with 186 mph winds, the 1944 Great Atlantic hurricanes and the Trio of 1954 — Carol, Edna and Hazel — battered the East Coast, AccuWeather meteorologists said.

“Hurricane Rita was a warning shot,” said AccuWeather’s Joe Bastardi. “The Texas coast is in for a long period of tropical activity, particularly the region from Corpus Christi to Sabine Pass at the Louisiana border.”

According to AccuWeather.com, the 2006 tropical storm season will be more active than normal, but less active than last year, with fewer storms than 2005’s record 26 named storms and 14 hurricanes. However, the threat of a devastating storm striking the most densely populated part of the United States is of serious concern, particularly coming so soon after Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest weather disasters in U.S. history, AccuWeather.com said.

“What they’re looking at [in the AccuWeather forecast] concerns me,” said Kennedy. “The water temperatures in the Gulf are about three degrees centigrade higher than they should be at this time of year, so it sounds like that’s a realistic forecast.”

AccuWeather also is calling for a hot summer in the central and southern plains. Although the market ignored the summer weather and hurricane predictions on Monday, traders probably will be paying more attention to such predictions by early next month. “Right now it’s background noise” because of the storage situation, Kennedy said.

Tim Evans, futures analyst with IFR Energy, said near-month futures need to hold failed resistance at $6.81 in order to keep pressure off the $6.45 floor from March 8 and to give the market a chance at a second push higher and a large upward correction. The low for April on Monday was $6.820.

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