With the worst of the latest blast of arctic cold having occurred over the holiday weekend and a modest warm-up under way, the cash market turned in a mixed performance Tuesday that was dominated by softening.

Scattered flat to higher points were in a decided minority, with gains ranging up to about 20 cents. However, only a couple of those exceeded a dime, with the rest limited to a little more than a nickel. Losses, on the other hand, ran the gamut from 2-3 cents to a little more than a dollar. Plunging Northeast citygates stood out with the biggest losses.

While not expected to return to the mildness that was the hallmark of January’s weather, temperatures are expected to be more seasonal Wednesday after a weekend cold snap that snarled transportation and challenged the ability of some utilities to keep people warm and the lights on. Another in a series of Alberta Clippers is due to move through the Upper Midwest but leave only minimal amounts of snow in its wake. Freezing highs in the Northeast are likely to be limited to parts of New England. Conditions will be almost spring-like in much of the South, and freezing temperatures will be scarce in the West outside the mountainous sections.

The screen’s spike that was just shy of 55 cents Tuesday, coupled with a dollar-plus gain by crude oil futures as supply problems continued to simmer in Nigeria (see futures story), provided fodder for suspecting a rebound in cash gas Wednesday. However, a couple of sources didn’t think that was in the cards because of storage bearishness and the return of more moderate weather fundamentals.

Wellhead freeze-offs in the Rockies caused a shortfall of supplies on CIG Saturday, which in turn led Xcel Energy’s Public Service Co. of Colorado utility to implement brief rolling blackouts (see related story). However, the problem subsided Sunday as well operators were able to restore their production levels. Supplies remained a bit tight, though, as Kern River reported low linepack in all four segments of its system Tuesday.

The Northeast had put the worst behind it “for now,” said a producer who trades the region. The market area is due to get colder again over the coming weekend, “but it won’t be as bad as during the holiday weekend,” he said. The New York City area was still freezing Tuesday morning, but it looks like it will be thawed out until the end of the week, he added. The producer didn’t think Tuesday’s screen strength would be enough to outweigh weaker weather fundamentals, so he was looking for moderate cash softness Wednesday.

By Wednesday afternoon “we’ll be ready to rip” in getting March trading under way, he continued. For Tuesday he reported “just checking our [March] pipe capacity and estimates of retail numbers” (baseload demand by customers behind utility citygates).

“It was dead today,” lamented the trading representative of several independent Gulf Coast producers. She had expected to be commencing with March business Tuesday afternoon, but said it seemed that having so many people taking off for the Presidents Day holiday was delaying things.

The trader said that even with the screen’s strength Tuesday, she couldn’t come up with any good reason to expect higher cash prices Wednesday. However, she noted that the EarthSat forecasting service was predicting pretty cold weather out through the next 15 days in the eastern half of the U.S. “I don’t know if it’s accurate, but we like it,” she said, adding that her company tends to hunt around for the most price favorable forecasts. On the other hand, she reported that a customer in Florida said it was 80 degrees on the peninsula Tuesday.

The National Weather Service (NWS) looks for more moderate conditions next week to replace the mostly below normal temperatures it has predicted since early February. In its outlook for the Feb. 27-March 3 workweek, NWS forecasts below normal temperatures everywhere east of a line roughly following the Mississippi River. It also expects below normal readings in Washington state, Oregon and the northern quarter of California. In place of the minuscule amounts of above normal conditions it has seen in recent weeks, the agency predicts them to occupy the region between the western border of Arizona and East Texas extending northward until North Dakota but including a sliver along the southern edge of Montana.

Citigroup analyst Kyle Cooper updated his initial estimation of a storage pull “probably near 100 Bcf” for the week ending Feb. 17 to one “closer to 120 Bcf with a bias still higher.” Despite the Presidents Day holiday the report will be issued at the regularly scheduled time Thursday morning.

Ron Denhardt of Strategic Energy & Economic Research noted that working gas storage is expected to end the heating season at 1,600-1,700 Bcf, which is 100-200 Bcf above the previous record. That raises the possibility that gas with have to be withdrawn to maintain integrity of the storage fields, he said, but “there is anecdotal evidence that storage operators have been renegotiating storage contracts so a great deal of gas will not have to be recycled. However, if a substantial volume of gas has to be withdrawn to maintain storage integrity, Henry Hub prices could plummet to $5.50 per MMBtu in March.”

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