WASHINGTON -- Gas prices have now topped $4 a gallon in many areas, and there's no end in sight to how high they'll go. Surpassing the $4-a-gallon mark for the first time since August 2008, the latest price surge is blamed on unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said the price of gas reached its highest level since the agency began tracking weekly data in 1990.
"Gas prices have risen 81¢ since the beginning of this year alone, and with the summer-demand season upon us, there's no relief in sight," predicted Beth Mosher, director of public affairs at AAA Chicago.
Hawaii's average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline hit a nation-leading $4.46 on April 14 -- 28¢ higher than second-place California. The national average reached $3.81, according to AAA data. Wyoming had the cheapest gas in the country at $3.53.
Initial studies by industry analysts suggest that consumers have reacted to the sustained pain at the pump by purchasing less gas, which typically signals an eventual drop in prices.
For vending and coin-op fleet operators, the $4 mark harkens back to the summer of 2008, when oil rose to $147 a barrel and gas prices topped out at $4.11 a gallon before the economy went into a tailspin.
EIA's latest short-term forecast predicts that nationwide prices during the summer driving season (April 1-Sept. 30) will average $3.86 a gallon nationwide, but could climb above $4 by July. "Current market prices of futures and options contracts for gasoline suggest a 33% probability that the national monthly average retail price for regular gasoline could exceed $4 per gallon during July 2011," the EIA reports.