The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a steep withdrawal of 152 Bcf natural gas storage for the week ended Dec. 18. The result was bullish compared to a year earlier though it fell short of market expectations and pushed Nymex natural gas futures lower.

The latest pull was shy of median estimates around 159-160 Bcf found by major polls.

Ahead of the EIA report, the January contract was down 9.0 cents at $2.690/MMBtu, and the prompt month gave up more ground to around $2.673 when the EIA data was released. By 12:30 p.m. ET, the January contract was trading at $2.610, down 17.0 cents from Tuesday’s close.

The latest withdrawal, however, was more than the 146 Bcf pull recorded a year earlier and greater than the five-year average 127 Bcf withdrawal.

A massive snowstorm walloped the Northeast during the covered week, bringing freezing temperatures and boosting heating demand. It was also colder than normal “over the interior U.S., South and Southwest” during the EIA report period, NatGasWeather said.

“I don’t know how” a 152 Bcf pull versus a 159 Bcf market expectation “crushes natural gas prices,”  said one participant on The Desk’s online energy platform Enelyst. “Amazing.”

Prior to the report, a Bloomberg survey showed withdrawal expectations ranging from 146 Bcf to 180 Bcf, with a median of 159 Bcf. A Reuters poll, meanwhile, landed at a median withdrawal of 160 Bcf, with pull estimates spanning from 142 Bcf to 180 Bcf.

A Wall Street Journal survey found an average withdrawal expectation of 159 Bcf. Estimates ranged from decreases of 146 Bcf to 179 Bcf. NGI predicted a 159 Bcf withdrawal.

Observers noted that trading volumes are typically light at this time of year and price swings can be relatively severe even absent major catalysts. “We are always cautious when navigating around holiday periods,” Bespoke Weather Services said, referring to Christmas later this week.

EIA posted the storage result a day earlier than usual because of the holiday. The agency reported a 122 Bcf withdrawal from inventories for the week ending Dec. 11.

The latest withdrawal reduced inventories to 3,574 Bcf, though stockpiles were still above the year-earlier level of 3,296 Bcf and above the five-year average of 3,356 Bcf.

By region, the South Central withdrawal of 49 Bcf led all others and included a 38 Bcf pull from nonsalt facilities and an 11 Bcf decrease in salts.

The Midwest and East regions followed with pulls of 44 Bcf and 37 Bcf, respectively.

Mountain region stocks declined by 11 Bcf, while Pacific inventories fell by 10 Bcf.