Summer's here. So are higher gas prices

But 15% runup in past 3 weeks pales in comparison to 2008's surge, and isn't likely to match the record highs.

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By Julianne Pepitone, CNNMoney.com

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- With the Memorial Day weekend and summer driving season approaching, motorists are facing a familiar trend -- surging gasoline prices.

But while pump prices have increased nearly 17% over the last 24 days, and are likely to go even higher over the coming weeks, experts don't foresee anything like the record levels of 2008.

"An overall increase is not abnormal for this time of year," said Bob van der Valk, a fuel-pricing analyst with 4Refuel Inc. in Lynnwood, Wash. "It will follow a similar trend, just starting at a lower price than 2008 did."

He also cited recent refinery fires in California, Pennsylvania and Illinois, curtailing supply, as a reason for the current spike.

The national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline increased Friday to $2.391, up 2.9 cents in a daily survey compiled for motorist group AAA. That's the 24th consecutive increase, during which the price of gas has increased 34.3 cents, or 16.7%. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have regular unleaded gas prices of $2 and higher.

But the surge in prices is somewhat relative. The average price is down 38% from the $3.831 per gallon AAA reported one year ago. And it's down $1.72 or 41.8%, from the record high of $4.114 set last July 17.

Gas prices could increase to $2.41 this weekend, said Tom Kloza, publisher of Oil Price Information Service.

"That would be an astounding 50% increase from November," he noted. "We have never seen a similar percentage increase from winter to spring."

As a result of the comparatively lower prices, van der Valk said he expected Americans will drive more this summer when they take time off.

That wasn't the case last year, when prices at the pump were volatile. Soaring prices curtailed travel, and by July 17 gas prices had risen already 35% year-over-year.

Consumers finally began to see a reprieve in August. But late summer brought Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, and gas prices shot back up in September, reaching more than $5 per gallon in some parts of the country. On Sept. 16, gas prices started declining amid weakening demand as the global economic slowdown took hold.

Barring major hurricanes or other unforeseen events, van der Valk expects the average price to peak around $2.75 by Labor Day. California and other West Coast states could see prices spike as high as $3, he added.

Kloza doesn't see quite as big a spike.

"If you believe in $3 gas, you believe in the Dow going back to 10,000," he said. "Fundamentals are the only way prices will move higher -- and I don't see that."

Instead, Kloza predicted average national prices will peak this year around $2.50 --and "we may be really close" to that level, he said.

And then, the cycle heads downward again.

"It could go below $2 by Christmas," van der Valk said. "People will say, 'Great, the gas companies are giving it away again.'" To top of page

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