Drivers in California became the first in the mainland U.S. to pay an average of $4 a gallon for gas in the current price spike. They probably will get lots of company soon.
California prices reached $4.01 for a gallon of self-serve regular gas on Monday and continued higher to $4.02 on Tuesday, the first time since March that the price has been that high. Only Hawaii and Alaska, with their limited access to refineries, had been above $4 a gallon before the recent price spike.
Other states are likely to cross the $4 mark in coming days. The average price in Connecticut and Illinois is now pennies away from $4, while Michigan, Washington, Oregon and the District of Columbia are close behind with prices above $3.80 a gallon.
The national average stands at $3.64 a gallon, up 16 cents in just the last week. Last week, Gasbuddy.com forecast that the national average will rise by 30 cents a gallon by August. While that would leave the national average under the $4 mark, it won't matter to more than a third of drivers nationwide who could soon see their local prices above that level.
"The markets for wholesale gasoline have turned violently higher since the last business day of June," said Tom Kloza, Gasbuddy.com chief oil analyst. He attributed the rise to a number of factors, including political uncertainty in oil producing regions such as Egypt and the rest of North Africa.
AAA said that the regional nature of gas markets and the impact of various refinery outages could cause even worse spikes in some markets. One-week spikes of 25 cents a gallon in some markets have become common in recent years.
"Motorists were understandably frustrated and squeezed by soaring prices and these dramatic price swings underscored the volatility that has become all too familiar in recent years," said Chris Plaushin, director of federal relations for AAA, in testimony before a Senate committee Tuesday.
Last year, the spike for the year came in early April, and it was in early May the year before. Despite the fact that summer blends of gas are more expensive to make, there hasn't been a summer spike in gas prices since 2008, as refineries try to produce the greatest supply during the summer months.