Gas prices don't usually spike over the Labor Day weekend, but this year could become the exception. The average price for a tank of gasoline is already 80 cents higher than it was a year ago. At $3.62 for a gallon of regular, that's close to the all-time record for this time of year, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report.
And prices could continue to rise. The average price for a barrel of crude oil has spiked in recent weeks, from $82.26 in the middle of August to around $89 at the beginning of September.
The increase appears related to lingering effects from Hurricane Irene. Most refineries along the East Coast closed down last week in anticipation of the storm. That led to a temporary dip in production that, combined with pressure from speculators betting the price would continue to rise, appears to be at least partly responsible.
"There is clearly a worry about the contribution of some key northeastern refineries," Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service, told Business Week.
As usual, gas prices are hitting some states harder than others. Inside the continental U.S., prices are highest in Connecticut ($3.92) New York ($3.86), California ($3.85) and Washington ($3.82), AAA reports. Drivers are doing best in Arizona, which on Wednesday had an average price of $3.38, followed by North Carolina ($3.405), Arkansas ($3.48) and Alabama ($3.482).
When purchasing gas, consumers should keep in mind that some stations charge a higher price for those who use credit cards.