CHARLESTON -- Just ahead of the busy warm-weather tourist travel season, South Carolina motorists are paying $1 more per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline over this time last year.
More unsettling is that price could crack the $4 a gallon mark by this summer, a potential detriment to vacationers.
The statewide average Tuesday was $3.73 a gallon compared with $2.72 a year ago, according to Charlotte-based AAA Carolinas travel club.
The last time South Carolina residents paid this much for a gallon of gas was two years and seven months ago -- on Oct. 4, 2008, in the wake of Hurricane Ike and just as financial markets began to tumble and deepen the recession.
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Despite a brief drop in oil prices on news of Osama bin Laden's death, several factors have caused prices to rise rapidly. The weak U.S. dollar, continued unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, the seasonal increase in demand and the switch to cleaner fuels have pushed oil prices to $113 per barrel, according to AAA.
Gasoline prices maintain a close correlation to the price of a barrel of oil.
"If the situation remains as is, we will see $4 a gallon in South Carolina this summer, although it is uncertain if prices will continue to rise," said David E. Parsons, president and chief executive officer of AAA Carolinas.
"The prediction of an active hurricane season is one worry."
A gallon of regular unleaded gas in South Carolina has climbed steadily in 2011, starting the year at $2.92.
South Carolina has the fifth lowest average price for a gallon of regular unleaded in the nation, according to AAA.
"Motorists can find the lowest prices along interstates at off-brand stations and at most stations in rural areas not near major highways," Parsons said.
The national average is currently at $3.97 per gallon, almost $1 above a year ago, with several states topping the $4 mark. They include Alaska, California, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.