NEW YORK, Jan 9 (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures fell on Thursday as expectations for a strong storage report were countered by a break in the week's record cold snap and forecasts for warmer weather.
The arctic freeze that descended on the eastern two-thirds of the country is expected to lift in the second half of the week, according to the National Weather Service.
In a 1- to 5-day forecast, private forecaster MDA predicted a surge of warmer weather, particularly in the Midwest and East, where temperatures were the coldest in over two decades earlier in the week.
Drawdowns in natural gas storage for the week ending Jan. 3 will be released Thursday at 10:30 a.m. (1530 GMT) by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Analysts polled by Reuters on average predicted a drawdown of 157 billion cubic feet, much higher than a drawdown of 97 bcf reported the week prior.
Next week's report, which will show the drawdown during this week's record cold, will reflect the all-time high demand.
Demand for natural gas hit a record high of 119 billion cubic feet on Monday, eclipsing the previous record set in January 2009, according to Thomson Reuters Analytics.
Front-month February gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange were down 6.4 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $4.152 per million British thermal units at 9:31 a.m. EST (1431 GMT).
In the ICE cash market, at Henry Hub GT-HH-IDX, the benchmark supply point in Louisiana, gas for Friday delivery fell 21 cents to $4.14. Early trade differentials were at a 1 cent premium over NYMEX, weakening from Wednesday's premium of 13 cents as warmer temperatures alleviated spot demand.
Gas on the Transco pipeline at the New York citygate E-TSCO6NY-IDX fell $5.33 to $4.219 as the region's price volatility tempered after its cold snap.
Nuclear plant outages on Thursday totaled 2,800 megawatts, or about 3 percent of U.S. capacity. That was down from Wednesday's total of 4,250 MW, and below the 8,440 MW out a year ago and the five-year average outage rate of 5,780 MW. (Editing by Sophie Hares)