HOUSTON (Dow Jones)--Natural gas futures finished higher Monday, lifted by forecasts for hot weather and a busy hurricane season.

Natural gas for July delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled 11.9 cents, or 2.48%, higher at $4.916 a million British thermal units, the highest settlement price since Feb. 19. Prices had reached a high of $4.937/MMBtu in earlier trading.

Natural gas futures were boosted by predictions for hot weather that is expected to spur additional demand for natural gas-fired power to cool homes and businesses. Meteorologists are also expecting an active hurricane season, which has the potential to disrupt supplies from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, a region that accounts for about 11% of domestic output. The forecasts were prompting traders, who had bet heavily on falling prices to buy back previously sold contracts.

"Nobody wants to be short before the summer," said Kyle Cooper, director of research for Houston-based IAF Advisors, noting that the forecasts are the "driving force" behind the gain in prices.

The National Weather Service forecast for June 12 to June 16 predicts above-normal temperatures across the Northeast, the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic and the Southeast.

Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist with the private forecasting firm Planalytics, wrote in a note to clients on Monday that, by week's end, heat will begin moving into parts of the Midwest and Northeast and last into early next week.

The Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast will experience a "return to uncomfortable heat and humidity levels late this week," Rouiller wrote in a note to clients.

Forecasters are also predicting a busy 2010 Atlantic hurricane season. While the National Weather Service is not seeing any current tropical storm activity, the prospect of those storms was prompting some buying.

"We are continuing to work to price in an active hurricane season," said Tim Evans, an analyst with Citi Futures Perspective in New York.

-By Jason Womack, Dow Jones Newswires; 713-547-9201; jason.womack@dowjones.com