Memorial Day weekend, known not only as a time for hitting the road but also the kickoff to the summer road trip season, has always been regarded as a key moment for gas prices. This year, the national average for a gallon of regular is almost exactly the same as it was for Memorial Day 2012. And yet, for the past two years, the periods leading up to Memorial Day couldn’t be more different.
In 2012 and 2013, the first two months of the year were both marked by increases in prices at the pump, including curiously sharp spikes in February, despite relatively low demand in the marketplace. That’s when the similarities in 2012 and 2013 gas prices end. In March 2013, trends shifted gears compared to the year before. Gas prices almost never drop during the month of March, and sure enough, they rose swiftly in March 2012. Fast-forward a year later, however, and prices at the pump dipped significantly in March 2013.
By early April 2013, the national average was around $3.64, 30¢ cheaper than the year before. Prices continued dropping throughout the month, reaching roughly the $3.50 mark.
More recently, gas prices have been on the rise around the country—and especially in the Midwest and California. Thanks to refinery outages, the statewide average in Minnesota hit $4.27 per gallon this week, an all-time high for the state and the highest average in the Lower 48, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. GasBuddy noted that drivers in North Dakota were also paying all-time highs for gasoline, and much of the Midwest was nearing record high gas prices just in time for Memorial Day. The latest Energy Information Administration report states that the national average jumped roughly 14¢ over the past two weeks, thanks in particular to prices spikes in the Midwest and California, where a gallon of regular jumped 18¢ in two weeks.
Around this time last year, by contrast, gas prices were decreasing in nearly all of the country, after hitting what wound up being highs for all of 2012 in April.
No matter how different the trajectories of gas prices were during the springtimes of 2012 and 2013, the net result is this: As of the Wednesday before Memorial Day 2013, the national average for gas prices is just about the same as it was 12 months prior: $3.66 in 2013 vs. $3.68 in 2012, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report.
None of this is likely to provide any consolation to drivers in the Midwest who are currently getting hammered with all-time or near-record high prices at the pump. Neither are the recent projections by Purdue University energy economics specialist Wally Tyner, who was cited by the Associated Press saying that gas prices during the summer of 2013 should be lower than the year before. As we should all know by now, forecasting what gas prices will do is about as difficult and problematic as predicting what the weather will be like on Memorial Day weekend.