Although cold fronts or snow were in the Friday forecast for sections of all four main geographic regions of the U.S., the fact that unseasonably moderate conditions had returned to the overall weather picture carried the trading day Thursday and resulted in diving prices across the board. The screen’s prior-day plunge of nearly half a dollar and increasing comfort levels about storage put further downward pressure on cash quotes.

Losses were fairly homogenous across all market areas in ranging from a little less than 35 cents to about 80 cents.

Several points were still clinging to sub-dollar deficits to first-of-month indexes as of Wednesday, but on Thursday all such deficits had expanded to triple digits. NGPL and Texas Eastern in South Texas along with ANR Southwest had fallen the least (a little under $1.40) from bidweek averages, while the Algonquin citygate saw the biggest spread from index of a little more than $6.60.

The Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) estimate of a 46 Bcf withdrawal from storage during the week ending Dec. 13 was shaded slightly to the high side but still well within the range of prior expectations. After net injections of 12 Bcf and 11 Bcf in the preceding two storage reports, the Producing region was back in withdrawal mode last week with a pull of 8 Bcf, the EIA said. After an initially bearish response, the screen turned higher later Thursday and ended the day with a gain of 21.1 cents that was based largely on a new spike in crude oil futures. Besides the previous one-two punch of violence in Nigeria’s oilpatch and nervousness about Iran’s revived nuclear development program, oil traders were confronted with new concerns over the broadcast of a tape by Osama bin Laden that purportedly signals a new attack on the U.S. in the near future.

Despite the natural gas screen’s rebound, it is not expected to rally cash numbers Friday, when the industrial load slump that is typical of a weekend will provide additional negative influence.

A Dallas-based marketer indicated the general lack of heating load by noting that temperatures were “very comfortable” in her area Thursday.

Another source thought it somewhat amazing that half of the traditional winter heating season (November-March) has passed with very few pipeline OFO-like actions, especially among those pipes that serve the Northeast and Midwest market areas.

Weather 2000 held out some intermediate-term hope for beleaguered trading bulls when it cited “high-latitude blocking slowly emerging on schedule” in its prediction that February should make up for sparseness of polar and arctic air in January. The New York City-based consulting firm said hemispheric patterns were set in motion over the past holiday weekend that could slowly and eventually have profound implications for U.S. weather. “Synoptic [dictionary: affording a general view of a whole] patterns were given a free pass over the last three weeks, with no teleconnection ‘directions,’ and they routinely chose a path [that] ushered up bountiful mild air into the central and eastern states. That free pass, however, is slowly expiring, and the powerful teleconnections that orchestrated such historic cold in December are scheduled to make a comeback.

“Polar and arctic air has been building up in Canada at tremendous levels since New Year’s, and we often refer to any weather patterns inhibiting its southward progress as a ‘dam.’ During strong El Nino events that dam is solid and almost immovable (1997-1998), during neutral events that dam is a meager fence (2003-2005), and during La Nina events that dam is built up and then knocked down repeatedly throughout the winter season. Tropical Pacific conditions have evolved over the past few months to produce a weak La Nina event, and hence the enormous weather volatility we have endured since Thanksgiving.”

Weather 2000 said it urges clients “to stay alert and start making preparations for more frigid weeks this winter, especially two full weeks before even the groundhog gets to put in his 5 cents.”

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