* Below-normal temperatures on tap for most of nation
* Prices hover near key technical levels
* Coming Up: EIA natgas storage data on Thursday
By Eileen Houlihan
NEW YORK, Oct 23 (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures edged higher for the first time in three sessions early Wednesday, lifted by forecasts for continued cool weather for late this month and early next month.
In addition, nuclear power plant outages were in full swing, helping to boost near-term demand for gas-fired replacement generation.
But some traders said ample inventories, a quiet tropical front and near-record high production could help limit gains.
At 9:12 a.m. EDT (1312 GMT), front-month November natural gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange were at $3.61 per million British thermal units, up 2.9 cents, or just under 1 percent.
The contract traded as high as $3.869 last week, the highest price for a front-month contract since late June, according to Reuters data.
Prices were hovering near the 100-day moving average of $3.621 on Wednesday, but settled below the 200-day moving average near $3.69 twice this week, a possible bearish sign for technical traders.
The nearby contract hit a five-week low of $3.402 in late September.
The latest National Weather Service six- to 10-day outlook issued on Tuesday called for below-normal temperatures for most of the nation, with above-normal readings along the West Coast and in South Florida. Some normal readings were expected along the East Coast and in some northern-tier states.
Tuesday’s gas storage report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, delayed due to the government shutdown last week, showed total domestic inventories rose in the week that ended Oct. 11, by 77 billion cubic feet to 3.654 trillion cubic feet.
Total stocks stand about 3 percent below last year’s level and nearly 2 percent above the five-year average.
Injection estimates for Thursday’s EIA storage report range from 70 bcf to 84 bcf versus a year-ago gain of 64 bcf and the five-year average increase for that week of 67 bcf.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center was monitoring Tropical Storm Lorenzo in the central Atlantic, well east of Bermuda, with no other tropical cyclone formation expected for the next five days.
Data from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission showed about 17,200 megawatts, or 18 percent of U.S. capacity, was offline on Wednesday, down from 17,300 MW out on Tuesday, 26,200 MW out a year ago and a five-year average outage rate of 20,700 MW. (Editing by Maureen Bavdek)