February Gas Prices Make Largest Leap Since Summer Driving Season

WASHINGTON, D.C. – February saw the largest increase in gas prices since July, with the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline rising approximately 17 cents over the course of the month, according to the latest AAA Monthly Gas PriceReport. Today's national average price is $3.45 per gallon.

Still, the monthly average for February was $3.34 per gallon, down from $3.65 during the same month last year and marking the cheapest February average since 2011.

"Strong winter storms and weak demand have helped to keep gas prices less expensive this winter, but many drivers recently have noticed that it is starting to cost more to fuel up," said Avery Ash, AAA spokesman. "We are entering the worst time of year for visiting the gas station as prices rise primarily due to seasonal refinery maintenance."

The national average has increased for 21 days in a row, the longest consecutive streak since last February. Such increases are typical this time of year due to refineries cutting production in order to conduct seasonal maintenance, which can limit fuel supplies and cause market uncertainty.

The current national average is 33 cents less expensive than one year ago, reflecting the fact that 2013 gas prices peaked early due to heavy refinery maintenance during the first two months of the year. Gas prices rose to $3.79 per gallon last year on Feb. 27, the earliest peak price on record.

AAA predicts this year's severe winter storms and a later refinery maintenance schedule will result in peak prices of $3.55 to $3.75 in March or April.

"Buying gas in the spring can be a frustrating challenge because prices seem to be higher every time you get in the car," Ash added. "Yet even as prices inevitably rise, there is a good chance that most people should pay less than [in] recent years to buy gas."

If 2014 sees a trouble-free maintenance season and continued strong winter storms, gas prices could stay on the lower end of the forecast. Unexpected refinery problems, strong demand and higher oil costs could result in higher prices. Additionally, gas prices may rise in March due to the switch to summer-blend gas, which most refineries and pipelines must make by April 1, according to AAA.

Currently, drivers in every state but Wyoming are paying less for gas than they did a year ago. The five states paying the highest average prices are Hawaii ($4.08), California ($3.84), Alaska ($3.77), Connecticut ($3.75) and New York ($3.74), while the states paying the lowest average prices are South Carolina ($3.17), Montana ($3.18), Alabama ($3.21), Mississippi ($3.22) and Tennessee ($3.22).

All 50 states are paying more for gas than they did one month ago. The steepest increases were seen in Michigan (up 39 cents), Indiana (34 cents), Ohio (34 cents), Colorado (33 cents) and South Dakota (27 cents). Less than 1 percent of all U.S. gas stations are selling gas for less than $3 per gallon, compared to more than one in four gas stations selling below that price in November.