Drivers in Merced enjoyed a nice break from surging gas prices during the holidays -- but not for long.
Gasoline prices are on the rise again in California, including the Merced area, according to AAA.
The average price of regular gasoline in Merced was $3.89 per gallon Friday, up 18 cents from last week and 35 cents from last month, AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge report said.
The average cost for a gallon of regular gasoline in California spiked to $4.01 Friday, up 19 cents from a week earlier and 40 cents from a month ago.
Prices typically rise about this time each year, but this price hike is happening extra fast.
Just about every factor possible is contributing to the runup. The biggest ones are the shutdown of a major refinery in El Se- gundo after a fire there last month, and the shutdown of other California refineries for scheduled maintenance, said AAA of Northern California spokeswoman Cynthia Harris.
Some refineries are switching from the less-expensive winter blend of gasoline to the pricier-but-cleaner-burning summer blend, which contributes to the price spike, she said.
Crude oil prices have been climbing since January. Positive economic reports and the chance that could lead to increased gasoline demand play a role, too, she said.
One factor not contributing to the runup? A shortage of gasoline. "It's not a supply issue at all. It's speculation," Harris said.
Among the 50 states, California has the second-highest state average price for regular, unleaded gasoline. Hawaii is the highest at $4.21.
The recent price surge follows a year in which the nation's drivers spent a greater percentage of their annual income on gasoline than at any time in the past three dec- ades, the U.S. Energy Department said.
But California isn't alone.
In the Midwest, prices have jumped 22.8 cents over the past week, according to the Energy Department.
That helped drive the U.S. average for a gallon of regular to its highest average for this week, up 18.1 cents to $3.53 a gallon.
In 2012, Americans paid a record average of $3.61 for a gallon of regular gasoline, up from $3.52 in 2011, according to the Energy Department.
The 2011 average was a record, too, and a whopping 73.9 cents a gallon more than in 2010.
"The effect of the higher prices in 2011 and 2012 outweighed the effect of reduced consumption," the Energy Department said.
Modesto Bee Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra contributed to this report.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.