By Jonathan Fahey
NEW YORK -- Drivers, here's the bad news: You'll be paying more for gasoline in the coming weeks.
The good news: You'll likely pay less than last year. Or the year before, or the year before that.
The price of gasoline held steady into early February, but an increase is almost inevitable at this time of year. Pump prices have gone up an average 31 cents per gallon in February over the past three years. And although this year's rise might not reach the heights of years past, there are reasons for drivers in some regions -- like the Northeast -- to worry about a painful spike.
"We're going to get increases, and they are going to be noticeable," says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Gasbuddy.com and the Oil Price Information Service. "We're going to get that pop relatively soon."
The price of crude oil has risen 8% over the past month, to $100 per barrel. And analysts expect fuel supplies to begin to decline, as refineries dial back production to perform maintenance and make the switch to summer fuels.
Gasoline prices are already creeping higher. The nationwide average price has risen for seven days in a row to $3.34 per gallon, the highest level since October, according to AAA, OPIS and Wright Express. California, Connecticut and New York drivers are paying an average of $3.65 or more, the most in the lower 48 states. Montana and South Carolina drivers are paying $3.10 or less.
But the nationwide average is not expected to quite reach its high point of last year, $3.79 per gallon, set on Feb. 27 -- never mind the highs of $3.94 in 2012 and $3.98 in 2011. AAA predicts a peak of between $3.55 and $3.75 per gallon.