Tornadoes contribute to gasoline price surge

The swarm of deadly tornadoes that raked the South last week also temporarily shut down seven refineries, analysts said, providing yet another boost to fuel prices across the nation and setting a record in Chicago.

The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.963 on Monday, up 8.4 cents from a week earlier, according to the Energy Department’s weekly survey of service stations. The last time the U.S. average exceeded $4 was in July 21, 2008. At this time last year, a gallon of regular averaged $2.898 nationwide.

In California, the average rose 4 cents to $4.257 a gallon. That was $1.205 a gallon higher than a year earlier and the highest in the state since July 28, 2008.


In Chicago, the average price jumped 10 cents to $4.352 over the last week, the Energy Department said. That topped the city’s all-time high of $4.303 set on July 7, 2008.

Two weeks ago, the average exceeded $4 a gallon in just six states, according to a separate price survey. Now, 13 states have averages above $4 a gallon, with an additional 10 states within 7 cents of that mark, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report.

The AAA Fuel Gauge Report uses data compiled from more than 100,000 retail outlets across the U.S. by the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express.

“What you have now is the last of the spring maintenance season for refineries combining with Mother Nature wreaking havoc,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service. “The good news is that the seven refineries were mostly just power outages and not real damage, so they were back online pretty quickly, but the damage to prices had been done.”

Kloza said he was hopeful that prices would peak soon and then begin to go down.

Oil prices fell, surged and then declined Monday as traders digested the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. The U.S. benchmark West Texas crude closed at $113.52 a barrel, down 41 cents on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude fell 77 cents to $125.12 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange in London.