Shares of natural gas companies finished higher Thursday, despite a disappointing government report on inventories, as investors continued to bet on colder weather over the next two weeks.

Apache

(APA) - Get Report

ended up 27 cents to $81.77,

Burlington Resources

(BR) - Get Report

rose 35 cents to $56.52 and

Devon Energy

(DVN) - Get Report

gained 12 cents to $58.37.

The gains came even after the Energy Department said that the gas supply fell a by a less-than-expected 52 billion cubic feet in the week ended Jan. 2. Analysts had predicted a bigger drop.

"Gas prices dropped significantly after the government report came out this morning," said Michael Fitzpatrick, a futures trader at Fimat, who had expected a 70 billion-cubic-feet decline in gas stocks. "But they came storming back. People think that the cold is going to have a big impact."

According to the Energy Department, total gas in storage now stands at 2.567 trillion cubic feet, up 236 billion cubic feet from the year-ago level and up 196 billion cubic feet from the five-year average.

Still, natural gas prices closed ahead for the session amid forecasts for an Arctic blast this weekend, with record cold expected in New England, according to

Weather.com

.

Natural gas for February delivery rose 34 cents to $7.22, but is still below a Dec. 10 high of $7.55. "We are looking for gas prices to get up to $8," said Mario Chavez, a futures trader at ABN Amro.