Gas Prices Already Top $4 a Gallon in Three States

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Consumers have been warned to expect a gallon of regular to cost $4 by springtime. For drivers in three states, four bucks or more per gallon is already a reality.

It’s an odd time for gas prices. Normally, gas prices fall every February, reflecting a decrease in demand. This year, while demand is low, gas prices are on the rise this month.

While prices vary widely from state to state, they usually follow a similar trajectory around the nation—falling or rising in response to consumer demand and other factors. This year, however, prices at the pump are quirky, with significant rises in some states, and gas prices that are stagnant or seeing much slower increases in others.

(MORE: Gas Prices Usually Fall in February — But Not This February)

For the most part, gas prices are soaring along the coasts, but not in the Midwest. The Chicago Tribune notes that in the Second City area, prices have actually dropped 10¢ per gallon over the past month, to $3.54. Nationally, according to AAA, the average price for a gallon of regular is now $3.57, up from $3.51 a week ago, and $3.38 one month ago.

In other landlocked states, such as Colorado, Utah, and Montana, gas prices remain lower than $3.15 per gallon, on average. The Montana Missoulian reports that many gas stations in the state still offer gas below $3 a gallon, at the same time that the three most expensive states for gas—California, Alaska, Hawaii—have all surpassed the $4 mark.

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A AAA spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times that in California, which hit an average of more than $4 over the weekend:

“By April or May you might see some isolated instances where you’re seeing $5” gas per gallon.

Presumably, that’d also be the case for Alaska and Hawaii. By spring, prices of well over $4 are all but assumed in other pricey states, including New York and Connecticut, as well as Washington, D.C., which are all at $3.80 or more per gallon at the moment.

Why are prices spiking in some states, decreasing in others, and experiencing only marginal increases elsewhere? Local tax policies and business practices have some impact. But for the most part, we’re seeing the most dramatic increases in gas prices on the East and West coasts, where fuel is more likely to be imported—and where prices are more closely tied to whatever’s going on in the Middle East.

Concerns with Iran, highlighted by Monday’s announcement that the country would stop selling oil to England and France, have translated into steadily increasing prices at the pump in early 2012. That’s a trend that’s likely here to stay, seeing as crude oil futures closed at the highest prices since last June yesterday.

(MORE: Gas Price Hike: Expect $4 a Gallon — Or Perhaps $6 — By Springtime)

In the months to come, drivers in many states are bound to identify with a woman in California quoted by the LA Times who is already dealing with $4+ per gallon. “Life is so expensive right now,” she said. And high gas prices means that other parts of the economy are likely to suffer, what with consumers having less income to spend:

“I’m not eating out anymore,” she said. “I’m not going out on the weekend if it’s not necessary. With gas being this expensive, I have no choice.”

Come springtime, when drivers in the Midwest and most of the country are paying closer to $4 a gallon, they can at least find solace in the knowledge that their counterparts in California and Alaska are probably paying $5.

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.