Chinese crude oil imports rose to the third highest daily rate on record in January, and overall exports and imports were much higher than expected last month, according to trade data.
"Chinese growth is stronger than people anticipated," said Gene McGillian, a broker and analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Conn. "Now we're talking about maintenance programs (and repairs of oil facilities) in the North Sea. That's all taking prices higher."
Some analysts said the first major snow storm of 2013 only intensifies traders' instinct to buy futures contracts for refined fuels as some worry about reduced supplies due to the weather.
"People remember Superstorm Sandy and they're fueling up en masse from New York to Boston," Kloza said. "They know they need gasoline to fuel electricity. The threat of no electricity in pumping stations and no electricity in New England to keep fuel supply terminals open" is adding to the price surge. "But mostly it's pure panic," he added.
Indeed, there may be some supply disruptions due to the storm.
"Clearly the vessels are going to be delayed getting into New York Harbor. They won't be able to continue their operations on Saturday," Lipow said.
But fuel demand should decline as well as many people stay home through the storm. With fewer drivers on the road as well as canceled flights and trains, "ultimately this event will be a demand destroyer as opposed to a supply destroyer," Kloza said.
—By CNBC's Sharon Epperson; Follow her on Twitter: