NEW YORK — Drivers are being hit with the biggest one-day jump in gasoline prices in 18 months just as the last heavy driving weekend of the summer approaches.
As Hurricane Isaac swamps the nation’s oil and gas hub along the Gulf Coast, it’s delivering sharply higher pump prices to storm-battered residents of Louisiana and Mississippi — and also to unsuspecting drivers up north in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
The national average price of a gallon of gas jumped almost 5 cents Wednesday to $3.80, the highest ever for this date. Prices are expected to continue to climb through Labor Day weekend, the end of the summer driving season.
“The national average will keep ticking higher, and it’s going to be noticeable,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at Gasbuddy.com
The wide storm shut down several refineries along the Gulf Coast, and others are operating at reduced rates. In all, about 1.3 million barrels per day of refining capacity is affected. So it’s no surprise that drivers in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida saw gas prices rise by a dime or more in the past week.
But some states in the Midwest are suffering even more dramatic spikes. Ohio prices jumped 14 cents, Indiana prices soared 13 cents, and Illinois prices jumped 10 cents on Wednesday alone, according to the Oil Price Information Service. Days before Isaac is expected to douse those states with rain, the storm forced the shutdown of a pipeline that serves a number of Midwest refineries.
Drivers in the region were angry and confused.
“I saw gas in my neighborhood for $3.56 a gallon just Tuesday morning, and now I’m paying $3.95. It’s terrible,” said Mary Allen of Cincinnati as she paid $20 for a little more than 5 gallons of gas. She wondered how Isaac could drive up gas prices in Ohio — and then resigned herself to a holiday weekend without travel.
The price surge is happening at the wrong time and in the wrong place for Dickson Stewart, a 56-year-old electronics consultant who is driving from Minneapolis to Savannah, Ga., this week. He stopped at a BP station in downtown Chicago on Tuesday — home to some of the highest retail prices in the country — and paid $4.49 a gallon to fill up his Jeep Wrangler.
Mr. Stewart expects gas prices to fall after Labor Day. Analysts say he’s probably right.
As Isaac fades away, the summer driving season ends and refiners switch to cheaper winter blends of gasoline, station owners should start dropping prices. “There is some very good relief in sight,” Mr. DeHaan said.
When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the national average for gas spiked 40 cents in six days and topped $3 per gallon for the first time. Isaac likely won’t have the same result, though its full impact on the refineries is yet to be determined.
The refineries are not expected to suffer long-term damage. But refiners decided to shut down or run at reduced rates to protect their operations. The Gulf refineries likely will stay offline for about three days.