The latest blast of winter cold in much of the East is proving to be short-lived, and so are the two days of price firmness that it caused. Numbers dropped at nearly all points Thursday as a warming trend was forecast for the Midwest and cold temperatures were due to ease slightly in the Northeast. While colder conditions would continue spreading in the South Friday, they weren’t enough to offset the decline of heating load in more northerly climes.

The previous day’s 4.2-cent decline by April futures was another bearish influence on Thursday’s cash market.

Several scattered instances of flat to about a nickel higher quotes were the exceptions to overall softness. Most points saw losses ranging from a couple of pennies to nearly C50 cents (Westcoast Station 2). Sumas and Westcoast Station 2, which had recorded Wednesday’s biggest gains due to freezing lows forecast in the Pacific Northwest, took the biggest price hits Thursday as their primary market area is about to warm up. Portland, OR, is expected to peak in the mid 50s Friday.

The Energy Information Administration handily surpassed consensus expectations in the low 100s Bcf by reporting a 112 Bcf storage withdrawal for the week ending March 6. Nymex traders readily accepted one of the rare bullish signals they’ve received in recent weeks in sending April futures 19.7 cents higher (see related story).

Northern Natural Gas indicated the impending moderation of Midwest temperatures by ending a three-day run of a System Overrun Limitation in all market-area zones Friday. It had been the only remaining cold weather-related pipeline constraint.

Widespread rains and a cold front will keep temperatures in the South well below average into the weekend, according to The Weather Channel (TWC). But lows in the 40s will limit the regional contribution of heating load to the overall market.

The Midwest, Northeast and Rockies can expect lows Friday around freezing or in the 20s Friday, but in most cases that will represent warmer conditions than they had been experiencing Wednesday and Thursday. Even with the milder forecast, though, a dusting of snow is possible as far south as the Washington, DC, area, TWC said.

A Texas-based trader noted that although her state was getting colder, temperatures were tending to become more “seasonal” in northern market areas, and in mid-March that usually means not terribly cold. But despite warming trends, the weather is still cold enough that she had no difficulty at all finding buyers for her company’s gas, she said.

The trader said Thursday’s substantial futures uptick may result in a few cash gains Friday, but the fundamentals of moderating weather forecasts over the weekend meant indicate that most of the market will be softer. The weekend loss of industrial load will be another cash price depressant, she added.

She thinks this week probably was the last hurrah for winter weather, “but you never know. We’ve seen cold weather return as late as April” in previous years.

After predicting below-normal temperatures for roughly the eastern third of the U.S. during the March 16-20 workweek (see Daily GPI, March 12), the National Weather Service has revised its forecast for the March 17-21 period to below-normal readings only along the entire Eastern Seaboard. It now estimates above-normal temperatures in nearly all of the West as far east as a line running southward from central Wisconsin through most of Louisiana.

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