Gas Prices Rising to Near Pre-Pandemic Levels. Here’s Why

What's behind this rare January increase in gas prices? Experts weigh in.

Gas prices have steadily increased since the start of the new year, and nationally are approaching pre-pandemic levels, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). As of Jan. 26, the national average for regular unleaded was $2.40 per gallon, the highest in 11 months. California at $3.382 topped the list of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, with Mississippi the lowest at $2.01.

Curiously, according to AAA gas prices in the U.S. haven’t substantially increased in January in more than a decade. In 2009, prices jumped 23 cents during the first three weeks of the year due to a supply and demand imbalance. The current increase in gas prices and consumption can be attributed to optimism in COVID-19 vaccines, according to AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins.

“The biggest contributor to rising oil prices is the hope in the market that the COVID vaccine will help global fuel demand recover,” Jenkins told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Highest and lowest gas prices:

1. California $3.382;
2. Hawaii $3.338;
3. Washington $2.820;
4. Nevada $2.741;
5. Pennsylvania $2.703;
6. Oregon $2.686;
7. Alaska $2.609;
8. District of Columbia $2.608;
9. New Jersey $2.554;
10. Illinois $2.544;

42. Tennessee $2.197;
43. Kansas $2.191;
44. Alabama $2.176;
45. Arkansas $2.172;
46. South Carolina $2.168;
47. Louisiana $2.146;
48. Missouri $2.121;
49. Oklahoma $2.118;
50. Texas $2.112;
51. Mississippi $2.099.

gas prices MR.WUTTISAK PROMCHOO/Getty Images

The Sun-Sentinel reported oil producing nations are “keeping prices high by carefully managing output and preventing a market glut.”

The national average Jan. 1, 2020 was $2.51. That dipped as low as $1.82 on April 1, due to the lack of travel during the height of the pandemic. Gas prices have steadily increased since then, especially since the November presidential election, according to GasBuddy’s gas tracker.

That increase isn’t an unusual trend. A report by the Kansas City Star said gas prices increased 26 cents from Nov. 28, 2016, to Jan. 8, 2017, which was 12 days before President Donald Trump took office. The highest national gas average occurred on July 17, 2018, when prices soared to $4.11.

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Alex Shoemaker
Alex is an avid DIYer but had little experience before purchasing his first home in 2019. A Family Handyman subscription was one of his first purchases after becoming a homeowner, and he's been hooked ever since. When he’s not working, he can be found fixing up his 1940s Florida home or relaxing on the beach with his family.