HOUSTON (Dow Jones)--Natural gas futures moved higher Tuesday on forecasts for hot weather and concerns over a busy Atlantic hurricane season.

Natural gas for July delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange recently traded 7.3 cents, or 1.46%, higher at $5.079 a million British thermal units. The front-month contract climbed as high as $5.169/MMBtu earlier in the session - the highest intraday level since Feb. 18.

Futures have climbed 17% this month as traders, who had bet heavily on falling prices bought back contracts, prompted by hot summer weather and the potential for hurricanes to disrupt gas supplies from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

In addition, the National Weather Service is currently monitoring a cluster of thunderstorms in the Atlantic with a moderate chance of tropical cyclone formation.

"There is good agreement that this is going to be an extremely active hurricane season," said Ed Kennedy, senior vice president of energy trading at Hencorp Becstone Futures, said, adding that the storms in the Atlantic had some traders "running for cover."

Forecasters don't expect the storms to go on to threaten gas supplies in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, which account for about 11% of domestic output. However, those storms were giving prices a boost.

"The first storm formation of the season can pack some significant price punch," Jim Ritterbusch, president of the energy advisory firm Ritterbusch and Associates wrote in a note to clients.

Forecasts for hot weather were also pushing prices higher. Meteorologists with private forecasting firm Commodity Weather Group see above-normal temperatures across the Southeast, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic into late June.

"The forecast for the next two weeks has shifted hotter. The models are generally in good agreement on widespread heat over the period," the forecasters wrote in a note to clients on Tuesday.

Hot weather can create additional gas demand to cool homes and businesses, slowing the rate at which gas is injected into storage. Natural gas inventories, which can be called upon in the event of short-term supply disruptions or demand spikes, have swelled this year as producers unlocked vast new supplies of the fuel from prolific onshore gas fields known as shales.

Natural gas in U.S. storage for the week ended June 4 stood at 2.456 trillion cubic feet - 1.2% higher than last year and 14.4% above the five-year average.

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