State

Gas prices on rise with temperatures

When Rian Gonzales' grandmother passed away recently, he couldn't afford the gas to drive or the plane ticket to get to her funeral in Arizona.

The Modesto resident said he wants to visit his dad there this summer, but doesn't know if he'll be able to afford it.

"Gas prices have been fluctuating a lot," he said at an Arco station near downtown Modesto on Wednesday afternoon. Gas there was $2.83, and cars were lined up waiting for pumps.

Money is tight for Gonzales, who is unemployed, so he copes with the high gas prices by trying to be efficient when running errands, using routes that cover the fewest miles possible.

He's not alone.

Gas prices have begun their annual, gradual climb upward, with forecasters predicting that Modesto's prices will hover around $3.30 a gallon for regular unleaded through the end of April.

A month ago, the average price for a gallon of unleaded gas in Modesto was $2.84. Early Tuesday, AAA showed it at $3.01.

Each year, prices climb as motorists take advantage of the sunnier and warmer weather to travel, but experts predict America and California's slow economic recovery and high unemployment rates will moderate the annual spring uptick.

Patterson's Leslie Sombre was pumping $3.07-a-gallon gas at a Chevron station on Oakdale Road and Wylie Drive on Wednesday. Sombre said she doesn't think rising gas prices are as much a concern for other people as unemployment and the sputtering economy.

"It's not so much gas anymore like it was when prices where up to $4 (a gallon)," she said as she topped off her Dodge Charger. "What's affecting everybody is the downfall of the economy. They should adjust the gas prices so we can afford it."

Sombre said she and her family will plan vacation trips closer to home and will save up to pay for gas.

Prices increase each year because companies are switching from winter to summer gas blends that are more expensive to make, said Carl Boyett, CEO of Boyett Petroleum in Modesto.

Because temperatures are hotter in the summer, gasoline can boil or vaporize, so summer gas is made to burn cleaner, he said, but is more costly to produce.

Wednesday, the national average retail price for a gallon of self-serve regular was $2.78 — about 4 cents higher than the average price last week.

Forecasts suggest retail gasoline prices across the nation will reach and breach the $3-per-gallon mark this spring. California is one of three states with an average unleaded price per gallon over $3 Wednesday, joining Alaska and Hawaii. Missouri has the lowest at $2.608.

Despite sluggish oil demand in the United States and other developed countries, oil analyst Andrew Lipow said global economic indicators support higher prices.

"The big news is that the economies around the world have stabilized from their abyss a year ago," Lipow said. He added that the energy demand outlook shows signs of hope given that the EIA, the International Energy Agency and OPEC have all bumped up their forecasts for the year.

However, not everyone thinks happy days are here again for the economy or that higher oil and gas prices can last.

"The Kool-Aid that has been offered, and apparently drunk by oil market participants is that the recession is over and the long slog back to prosperity has begun," said MF Global analyst Mike Fitzpatrick in a research note.

To find out average gas prices in U.S. cities, the estimated fuel cost for a trip or other tips, visit www.fuelgaugereport.com. Modesto area gas prices are also available at modbee.com/gas/ and modestogasprices.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.

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