Mark Sorden finishes putting $7.35 worth of gas in his 1979 Ford truck. Things were tight for him financially on Feb. 14, but the next day was pay day at the church where he works, and he planned to finish filling the tank then. (Michael S. Williamson/WASHINGTON POST)

Washington area drivers have discovered a new way to ward off their pain at the pump: They close their eyes.

“I don’t really look at the gas prices before I fill up,” Brett Miguel of Northwest Washington said Tuesday as he topped off his Chevrolet Cruze at a British Petroleum station at 13th and N streets. “It’s all so volatile.”

With uncertainty in the Middle East pushing the price of crude oil up, gas prices in the Washington region have climbed an average of 50 cents per gallon higher than they were at this time last year.

But it doesn’t matter, said Earl Risby, who works at the BP station. Customers complain, but they keep coming — for now, anyway.

“Some people shop around,” he said. “It’s a hunt on the cheapest gas.”

The winter doldrums traditionally provide a respite from higher gas prices as people hunker down in the weeks between the holiday season and spring break, but this year has been different.

“Despite weak demand, prices at the pump have been on the rise at a time when they typically see a seasonal drop,” said John B. Townsend of the American Automobile Association. “According to some analysts, speculation surrounding events in the Middle East, coupled with Northeast refinery closings, will steadily push gas prices up in the coming weeks and months, perhaps as much as 60 cents through the spring.”

Research by AAA and its affiliates that track gas prices showed the average price for regular octane gas in the Washington region was $3.61. That was 10 cents a gallon higher than the national average. Crude oil closed Tuesday at $100.74 a barrel, up $15.93 from a year ago.

Peter Stepanek of Georgetown spent $62.35 Tuesday at the BP. His Lexus GS350 took more than 15 gallons of premium at $4.05 per gallon.

“I spend a lot of time on the road,” the photographer said. He sometimes heads outside of the area to New York or Miami for work. “You definitely feel it in the pocket.”

Using current local gas prices, median state incomes and data on average miles traveled, the AAA extrapolated that the average Virginia household will use 122.4 gallons of gasoline this month, spending $428.40, or about 8.7 percent of monthly income. The average Maryland household will use 96.1 gallons of gasoline during the month, spending $344.99, about 6 percent of monthly income. In the District, the average household will use 28.7 gallons of gasoline, spending $107.59, about 1.7 percent of income.

Stepanek, who estimates he travels about 1,500 miles a month, said he usually spends about $300 a month on gas. He often avoids filling up in wealthier areas, like Georgetown. “You save five, six dollars” a tank, Ste­panek said. “For the same product.”

Nick DePinto, a Silver Spring resident, added only about five gallons to his tank for the same reason. It was $3.79 a gallon.

“I know out in the suburbs, I could get [it] a little cheaper,” he said, pumping in $20 to cover two days of travel.

He and his wife factor the cost of gas into their weekend plans, often staying close to home instead of driving downtown.

“I think we’re all experiencing pain at the pump,” he said. “We’re all caught in a web we can’t get out of.”

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