Updated from 2:45 p.m. EDT

So much for a retreat from the $55-a-barrel level.

Crude oil prices surged Wednesday after suffering their first back-to-back losses in about a month.

The November futures contract, which expires today, closed up $1.63 to $54.92 in floor trading on the Nymex, a penny shy of the previous record high set last Friday. Prices actually hit $55 at one point in the session.

Closely watched weekly inventory data released this morning showed a smaller-than-expected increase in crude stocks and another drop in distillates, which include heating oil. With the arrival of cool weather, heating oil supplies have become a key factor in the market.

Prices had closed at record highs on a regular basis in the last month, and even briefly traded above $55 a barrel in the wake of U.S. supply disruptions from Hurricane Ivan.

The hurricane season was just the latest reason to worry about supply during a time of unusually strong global demand.