Just as the extreme cold snap comes to a close, motorists could see a spike in fuel prices, albeit temporary.
Oil analyst Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at Gasbuddy.com, said it appears the normal cyclical nature of gas prices has kicked with a rise across the Great Lakes in a “kind of a uniform increase.”
It’s just starting,” he said. “We’re just getting some reports a spike is starting in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio and most of these stations are rising up to $3.45.”
Gas prices across Northwest Indiana averaged $3.243 a gallon early Thursday, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Report.
DeHaan said the hike is tied to the cold weather, which has led to six regional refineries that suffered outages.
“There may be one that was not related to cold weather, but a good portion of the refinery issues that have risen in the last five days have been cold weather related,” he said.
DeHaan said fuel prices are “always a roller coaster ride” so expect them to begin relaxing after going up.
“I do expect those refinery kinks will move behind us and that will open up for some drops after prices have gone up in the next day,” he said.
Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, said 2014 has started out on an odd note.
“Going into the year, I would have expected that the interior markets of the U.S. would see the softest gasoline prices and the coasts would see less price erosion,” he said. “Instead, we’ve seen just the opposite with heartland prices creeping higher and coastal prices (California for example) moving lower.
Kloza said the polar vortex came and brought some refinery problems thanks to record cold temperatures that created instrumentation, piping, or equipment problems at U.S. refineries, and there were weather-related issues with refineries in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky as well as other parts of the country.
“January is the lowest demand month of any year, and we’ll see pretty lackluster gasoline demand until after the Olympics,” he said. “I suspect that many of the cold weather problems incurred by refineries are hindrances or annoyances, but they are not likely to haunt the market in the second half of this poor demand month. So those price increases that have been recorded for Midwestern gasoline prices in the first ten days of 2014 are not the beginning of the big move – that move will come later in the first or second quarters when refiners perform scheduled maintenance and speculators push gasoline futures higher.”
Beth Mosher, spokeswoman for AAA Chicago, said AAA is not expecting gas prices to go up, "but you never know” because of the unpredictability of the region.
Mosher said AAA has been busy since the weather issues began, leading to a record number of calls for motorists dealing with dead batteries, stuck in snow or that have slid off the road.