What Happened? Gas Prices Were Supposed to Be 30¢ a Gallon Cheaper By Now

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A month ago, with crude oil prices plummeting and the economy pointing to weak demand, conditions seemed primed for a significant drop in gas prices for consumers. The experts predicted that by mid-September, the national average would be around $3.35 for a gallon of regular gasoline. As of today, however, the average is $3.65—more expensive than it was a month ago, and nearly $1 per gallon pricier than this time last year.

What happened?

First, gas prices, which had been decreasing slowly since the spring, stopped dropping, and then began creeping back upward toward the end of August. Analysts attributed the price shifts to the combined forces of a chaotic situation in Libya and Hurricane Irene, followed by Labor Day weekend, when gas prices always seem to rise a bit.

Now, even though the holiday weekend is in the past and demand remains low (especially compared to a year ago), prices remain stubbornly high. Why is that? Bloomberg (hat tip: Consumerist) reports that the average price for a gallon of gas has risen nearly 6¢ over the past two weeks partly due to higher ethanol prices and glitches at California oil refineries.

(MORE: Gas Prices Aren’t Dropping Like the Experts Predicted)

In any event, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report, the national average for a gallon of regular now stands at $3.65, up from $3.60 a month ago, and up from $2.70 in mid-September 2010. Will we ever get to $3.35, let alone $3 or $2.70 a gallon? Now, experts like the folks at GasBuddy are pointing out that forces such as the hurricane season and continued market volatility are “making forecasting gas price changes rather difficult.”

In other words: Your guess is as good as theirs when it comes to what’s going to happen with gas prices.

(MORE: Financial Experts Don’t Always Have Expertise)

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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