Gas prices in South Carolina aren't quite the bargain they were a month ago.
After soaring almost 40 cents per gallon in the past month, the statewide average has been surpassed by New Mexico and Arizona as the cheapest in the country.
Those prices are unlikely to slow their surge before summer ends, said Angela Daley of AAA Carolinas in Charlotte.
"The prices started to trend upward right after the Fourth of July," she said. "They could go up about 30 cents more, but we typically see them fall after Labor Day."
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Daley explained that gas prices tend to peak at this time each summer since demand is at its highest during the most popular time of year for vacations.
At $3.27 per gallon, the statewide average is still third-lowest in the country, in part because of one of the lowest state gas taxes and South Carolina's proximity to a major pipeline from the Gulf of Mexico.
But Daley said that price also is susceptible to the influence of global events, such as the European debt crisis and Iran's recent threats to shut down a major shipping route in response to international sanctions it faces for its nuclear program.
"Anytime there's turmoil in the Middle East, prices here go up," she said.
But that turmoil's effect is minimal, according to Patrick DeHaan, an analyst at Gasbuddy, a Minnesota-based business that tracks gas prices at more than 140,000 stations in the U.S. and Canada.
"I think it has more to do with optimism than anything else," he said. "Prices tend to go up when there's a perceived improvement in the economy. The (Dow Jones Industrial Average) is getting better, and people are feeling confident."
DeHaan agreed with Daley's assertion that prices tend to fall after Labor Day, explaining gas refineries begin stocking stations with a less expensive blend each fall.
In compliance with standards mandated by the Environmental Protection Act, Daley said, refineries produce a more expensive summer blend to curb smog exacerbated by higher temperatures.
The climbing prices seem to have had little effect on tourism this summer in southern Beaufort County; the owner of a Hilton Head Island home and villa rental business recently called July the most profitable month he could remember.