NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Natural gas futures ended more than 5% higher Monday, briefly rising above $5 a million British thermal units as traders eyed forecasts of cold weather in the major gas-consuming regions over the next two weeks.

Natural gas for November delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled 26.9 cents higher, or 5.7%, at $4.987 a million British thermal units after reaching a high of $5.008/MMBtu in combined electronic and floor trade earlier in the day. The intraday high and settlement prices were the highest since January.

Weather forecasters' predictions of chilly weather in U.S. Midwest and Northeast over the next two weeks drove prices higher Monday. The cool temperatures were expected to spark greater demand for natural gas for heating.

"We're seeing a little bit of a bullish forecast for the 10-to-15-day period, and that's kind of stoking the market's fears of winter," said Kent Bayazitoglu, an analyst with Gelber & Associates in Houston.

Cold weather will envelop the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. next week, predicted Jim Rouiller, a meteorologist with private forecaster Planalytics in Wayne, Pa., in a note to clients Monday.

"The first Arctic front of the season accompanied by widespread snow will hit the northern Rockies and Northern Plains late this week and weekend and will go on to bring the coldest weather so far this early fall season to a large portion of the country east of the Rockies next week," Rouiller wrote.

MDA EarthSat, a Rockville, Md., private forecaster, was predicting below-normal temperatures from California to the Great Lakes region from Oct. 5 to Oct 9. From Oct. 10 to Oct. 14, colder-than-normal temperatures were expected across the eastern two-thirds of the U.S., with the exception of Florida.

Long-term winter weather forecasts for the U.S. are mixed, with some forecasters predicting mild weather and others pointing to frigid temperatures.

But an overabundance of gas in storage continues to place downward pressure on prices. Tepid industrial gas demand and robust production from onshore gas fields has led to a record 3.589 trillion cubic feet of gas in U.S. storage, about 16% above last year's level and the five-year average. The winter heating season, when withdrawals from storage occur, doesn't officially begin until Nov. 1.


FUTURES SETTLEMENT NET CHANGE
Nymex Nov $4.987 +26.9c
Nymex Dec $5.723 +20.1c
Nymex Jan $5.995 +17.9c

CASH HUB RANGE PREVIOUS DAY
Henry Hub $2.82-$3.30 $2.23-$2.80
Transco 65 $2.79-$3.20 $2.24-$2.35
Tex East M3 $3.07-$3.60 $2.44-$2.76
Transco Z6 $3.10-$3.32 $2.47-$2.78
SoCal $3.01-$3.34 $2.31-$2.70
El Paso Perm $2.80-$3.08 $2.21-$2.47
El Paso SJ $2.82-$2.95 $2.14-$2.28
Waha $2.80-$3.00 $2.22-$2.64
Katy $2.77-$3.05 $2.25-$2.50


- By Christine Buurma, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2143; christine.buurma@dowjones.com