March 10, 2014 — -- "March Madness" not only refers to the NCAA basketball finals but also gas prices in the U.S.
That's because March may be the worst time of the year to buy gas, says Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.com. The reason is not political instability and the price of oil abroad.
The hike is driven by refineries that typically undergo seasonal maintenance this time of the year, transitioning to a cleaner burning formula for warmer months from the "winter blend." Many refineries cut production to conduct seasonal maintenance, which can limit gasoline supplies and cause market uncertainty, according to AAA.
"While the pump jump is more predictable than picking the final four teams in any college bracket, that also plays true to the end of the madness, which should take place in late April or early May as refinery maintenance ebbs," DeHaan said.
DeHaan said he expects average prices to increase at least 10 cents, or in the "double-digits," though in some areas the rise can be one nickel. In California, a pricey state for gas year-round, the average price could surge 20 cents.
The average price for a gallon of regular gas is $3.48, according to the Energy Department's U.S. Energy Information Institute, up about 4 cents from a week ago, but down 28 cents from a year ago.
The Energy Information Institute will release its latest national average price later this evening.