Two months before the summer driving season officially starts, average gasoline prices in the Washington region have shot past $4, the earliest they have ever surpassed that milestone, AAA Mid-Atlantic said Wednesday.
And area drivers may need to brace for another bout of sticker shock at the pump. Tom Klozma of the Oil Price Information Service says national gasoline prices could peak as high as $4.25 a gallon on average this spring. That would likely translate into record prices in the District.
“For goodness’ sake, it’s only March, and this is the earliest point in the year that pump prices have soared to this price level,” John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs, said in a statement.
“It took five months to reach this in 2011, and that took place just on the cusp of the summer driving season,” he added in an interview. “But this time around, for no apparent rhyme or reason other than exceptionally high crude oil prices, it is occurring less than three months into the year.”
According to AAA’s national survey of gas prices, a gallon of regular-grade fuel is averaging $4.15 in the District. The average price was about $3.85 a gallon a month ago. The highest recorded average price for regular gas in the District was $4.20 on May 12, 2011, according to AAA.
Gas prices in the city have surpassed the $4 mark three times before, the first time in June 2008. But they’ve never done so this early in the spring. A year ago, gas prices in the District averaged $3.77 a gallon.
The current average for the Washington region is $4.004 a gallon, according to AAA. In Maryland, regular gas is averaging $3.95 a gallon; in Virginia it’s $3.86.
The national average is $3.91, compared with about $3.70 last month and just below $3.59 this time last year.
Across the country, the price of gas has risen for 20 consecutive days, with only three days of decline in three months.
The District is topped by only four states where gas averages more than $4 a gallon. Its prices are surpassed by those in Illinois, Alaska, California and Hawaii, where the average is $4.54 a gallon.
In a news release, AAA said that in cities such as the District, prices are rising faster than in the rest of the country because of the use of more expensive reformulated gasoline.
There may be hope on the horizon: The price of crude oil, a major driver of gas prices, has held steady this month after escalating over the winter because of uncertainty in the Middle East.
According to a survey published by Lundberg, an independent market research group, this could help steady U.S. gas prices later this spring and summer.
But other oil analysts caution that further price rises are possible if turbulence grows in the Middle East or if the economy heats up and oil supplies fall.