National gas prices are back on the rise: The average price of a gallon gained nearly 25 cents in the past four weeks, according to survey publisher Trilby Lundberg. Regular-grade gas now costs $2.02 per gallon, up from $1.77 on Feb. 19, according to the March 20 survey. The latest AAA Fuel Gauge Survey finds a similar bump of 27 cents over the last month.
What's behind it? Rising oil costs, as well as the change of seasons, said AAA spokesman Michael Green.
"As weather improves, people are hitting the road and using more fuel, while refineries are producing less gasoline," he said.
Spring is refinery maintenance season, when gasoline companies check and upgrade equipment to get ready for the busy summer driving period, Green said. That means production tends be lower. Plus, during the summer, federal regulation requires many fuel sellers to switch over to more environmentally friendly — and costlier — summer-blend gasoline, he said.
So, while today's prices are still 50 cents cheaper than a year ago, consumers should prepare to start paying more as the year progresses.
"Unfortunately there's still room for prices to go even higher," Green said, "as past spring increases have been 50 cents or more."
Alas, this means the party that started when national average gas prices dipped below $2 a gallon back in December — then for the first time since 2009 — might be over soon. Analysts predict average U.S. gas prices could peak this year somewhere between $2.10 and $2.50, though costs could be even higher in markets like Los Angeles where gas is already $2.72 per gallon.
Here are three easy ways to make sure you're saving as much as possible at the pump, no matter where gas prices head.