By Johnny Jackson
Metro Atlanta could see average gas prices top the $4 per gallon mark before summer begins.
If present trends continue, consumers would see that mark reached well before Memorial Day, according to officials with AAA Auto Club South.
"If average prices increase by nine- to-twelve cents, as they have recently, it is possible to see gas prices at $4 per gallon by May, on average," said Jessica Brady, spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South.
Currently, only a handful of states and territories in the U.S. have average prices exceeding $4 per gallon for regular unleaded gas, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report. They include Hawaii, at $4.46 per gallon, and California, at $4.19 per gallon.
Georgia is among a collection of states in the Southeast and West whose average costs fall below $3.75 per gallon for regular unleaded gas.
The report reveals that metro Atlantans are paying a similar cost as Georgians, who are paying an average $3.69 per gallon -- nearly eight cents more than a week ago, and about a quarter more over the past month.
Brady said a weak dollar makes crude oil more appealing as a commodity to foreign investors, and increases the price of oil.
"The weak U.S. dollar, coupled with the continued turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, will likely sustain the already high oil and gas prices as we head into the summer months," she said.
Crude oil prices are currently at their highest level since 2008, according to economists with the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Crude oil spot prices averaged $89 per barrel in February and $103 per barrel in March. The price has maintained high levels since posting just above $109 per barrel Friday at Bloomberg.com.
The EIA projects that the retail price of regular unleaded gasoline will average $3.86 per gallon during this summer's driving season (the period between April 1 and Sept. 30), up from $2.76 per gallon last summer.
"For the past two weeks, we've seen the price of oil and price of gas increase," said Brady, noting that crude oil prices have fallen slightly this week, and could slow the rise in prices at the pump. She said, however, she does not expect prices will decline much as a result.
"We don't know whether this is going to be a trend, or a one- to two-week lull in prices," she said.