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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Current prices at the gas pump are likely to give consumers shock in a good way, but the "Christmas in July" is likely to be short-lived, as AAA forecasts that the summer national gas price average will increase by at least 10 cents.
The summer national average also has the strong potential to top this year's highest national average gas price of $2.42, which was recorded in March, AAA said. The low for 2017, $2.23 per gallon, was recorded in June, a time when consumers typically see gas prices soar.
"In spite of industry predictions to the contrary, gas prices this summer are cheaper than at the beginning of the year. However the next few weeks will paint a different picture," said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. "Gas prices will move north of $2.32 as early as next week and continue to increase until Labor Day when they'll start to dip."
This anticipated volatility is due to refiners continuing to run record level of crude oil, which is creating high levels of gasoline and diesel. Additionally, the summer driving season's strong demand is expected to stay on pace and possibly even set a new record high between now and Labor Day.
The current national average gas price is $2.28, which is one cent less than one month and nine cents more than one year ago. Drivers can find gas for $2.25 or less at 57 percent of gas stations across the United States.
Forty percent or more of gas stations in nine states are selling a gallon of unleaded gas for $2 or less: South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. Just 2 percent of all gas stations in the U.S. are selling gas for $3 or more.
Along with crude oil prices, rig count and growth in production, factors that AAA pinpointed as contributors to potential price increases include U.S. crude and gasoline exports, and hurricane season. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there is a 45 percent chance of an "above-normal season," which means there is a strong likelihood that hurricane activity will influence gasoline prices this fall.
In its fall forecast, AAA predicted that brisk summer driving season demand should give away to consumption that may be flat or fall short of fall and winter 2016 levels. Consumers can expect the average gas prices for the second half of 2017 to be under $2.25 per gallon, less than the $2.32 average from the first half of the year. It is very likely that more than 40 percent of drivers will be able to find gas for less than $2 per gallon at some point in the second half of 2017.