NEW YORK (MainStreet) Spring is still a month away, but gas prices have already begun their seasonal climb. In the last week alone average pump prices have soared 5 cents per gallon to $3.34, the highest since mid-October, according to GasBuddy.
"Oil prices have recently surpassed $100 per barrel, a $6 per barrel jump since we began 2014, and unfortunately this new trend may signal the beginning of 'March Madness,' the time of year that brings large spikes in gas prices," says Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy. "Very few stations have gasoline under $3 per gallon and I expect those few stations will all but dry up over the next couple weeks. The national average will likely rise 35-50 cents per gallon by the time gasoline prices peak in April or May, ahead of the start of the summer driving season that brings the switch to more expensive, cleaner burning summer gasoline."
Gas prices generally rise as refineries cut production to perform seasonal maintenance during a time when demand for winter heating oil eases and before the regulated conversion to summer-blend gasoline and vacation travel demand begins.
The AAA reports that last year the national average increased 49 cents per gallon over 41 days, before peaking at $3.79 per gallon on February 27. Gas prices rocketed 56 cents per gallon in spring 2012 and a whopping 86 cents per gallon in 2011.
Though prices will rise through spring, the AAA is expecting the peak to be lower than last year with the national average price of gas reaching an estimated $3.55 to $3.75 per gallon.
"Winter weather, weak demand and sufficient supplies have kept gas prices relatively low recently, but this trend may not last much longer," says Bob Darbelnet, president and CEO of AAA. "There is a good chance that average gasoline prices this year will cost less than in 2013, but it is not going to be cheap."