By Gary Strauss, USA TODAY
Gasoline prices are on another seasonal rollercoaster ride, but for
some parts of the country, the upward climb is swift and steep for now.
crude oil prices rising and pump prices in the Midwest and California
surging, the national average price of gasoline has climbed 10 cents to
$3.39 a gallon since late December and could rise to $3.50 in February.
motorists -- now paying an average $3.73 a gallon -- are likely to see
an even bigger pop in coming days. Wholesale prices in Southern
California surged about 17 cents Wednesday to $3.31 a gallon.
Prices have already surged 20 cents or more a gallon in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and other parts of the Midwest.
is going to be hit much worse than other states -- and those prices
come down the chain pretty quick,'' says Patrick DeHaan, senior energy
analyst for price tracker gasbuddy.com. DeHaan expects Southern
California -- where refineries are switching to costlier summer blends
-- to soon average $4 a gallon gas. Price spikes are also likely in the
coming weeks in Northern California, Oregon and Washington.
West Texas Intermediate crude oil traded at $98.05 a barrel Wednesday,
the highest levels since mid-September. Prices have climbed eight
straight weeks -- the longest streak since 2009, says Tom Kloza of the
Oil Price Information Service.
The anticipated runup in California pump prices is a long-term pattern, he says.
bottoms before other markets,'' Kloza says. "In 30-plus years, there
are virtually no cases where California gas prices didn't move up from
(late) January to St. Patrick's Day."
With refinery woes curbing
production last year, California prices surged to over $5 a gallon in
parts of the state, with temporary shortages shuttering dozens of
Nationwide, gas prices typically peak before Memorial
Day. Last year, U.S. prices topped at $3.94 a gallon April 5, but
briefly spiked upward along the West Coast and Midwest later in the
year, due to supply and refinery issues.
co-president of energy cost manager NUS Consulting, is expecting lower
overall 2013 prices. Based on weak consumer demand and rising domestic
crude oil production, a protracted price runup isn't sustainable, he
"January prices are more robust than we expected -- and
that's been a surprise,'' Soultanian says. "But if you look around the
world, economic activity is contracting in Europe and is very sluggish
in the U.S. The world is pretty well supplied with oil. Barring some
geopolitical incident, we're looking at a fairly significant correction
in prices somewhere in the first half of the year."