Look for less pain at the pump as fall arrives in the Midwest, but be ready for higher gas prices that could be triggered by any one of a number of factors, including hurricanes.
That was the word Wednesday from AAA Kansas, which released its fall fuel forecast.
According to AAA Kansas, the national average for a gallon of unleaded gas is expected to drop 14 cents to $2.70 this fall — with the potential to drop even more.
That represents a 14 cent per-gallon drop compared to Wednesday’s $2.84-a-gallon national price and more than a quarter cheaper than this year’s recorded high of $2.97 set in May.
Translating those projected price declines locally, AAA says, Kansas could see an average gas price of about $2.50 a gallon this fall, down from the current $2.64.
Topeka's unleaded prices on Wednesday morning ranged from $2.51 a gallon to $2.69 a gallon, according to GasBuddy.com.
“Cheaper-to-produce gasoline and relatively stable crude oil prices in August, combined with an anticipated drop in consumer gasoline demand post-Labor Day, means consumers will see savings when they fill up at the pump this fall,” Shawn Steward, AAA Kansas spokesman, said in a news release. “However, several outliers can reverse this forecast, including crude oil prices, geopolitical tensions and the mere threat of a hurricane that could interrupt refining and distribution operations.”
Gas prices nationally in 2018 have been significantly higher than 2017, AAA says. The year-to-date-national gas price average of $2.71 is 41 cents more than January to August of last year.
Kansas’ 2018 year-to-date gas price average is $2.54, up 37 cents from the $2.17 in the first eight months of 2017.
AAA listed several factors that affect a possible decrease in gasoline prices, including:
• The switch over to a winter-blend gasoline in mid-September. The difference between summer- and winter-blend gasolines involves the Reid Vapor Pressure — or RVP — of the fuel. RVP is a measure of how easily the fuel evaporates at a given temperature. The more volatile a gasoline, or a higher RVP, the easier it evaporates. Winter-blend fuel, which is cheaper to produce, has a higher RVP because the fuel must be able to evaporate at low temperatures for the engine to operate properly, especially when the engine is cold.
• A drop in gasoline demand as summer road trips and vacations subside with the arrival of fall.
Factors that could prevent cheaper gas prices, according to AAA, include:
• Crude Market Volatility. Much of 2018 has brought volatility to the domestic and global crude markets as market watchers try to gain insight into forces that will shape global supply this fall. These forces include: Venezuela's collapsing economy; slower-than-expected production growth by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries; and geopolitical uncertainty in the Middle East and around the globe.
• Iran Sanctions. When President Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal in May, the decision sent the crude markets into upheaval. In August, the first round of re-imposed sanctions on the country, which target Iran’s financial sector, went into effect and led to a brief increase in crude prices. The next round of sanctions, scheduled to take effect in November, will target Iran’s energy sector, including its crude exports, and likely will have a more sustained impact on crude prices. If and when those sanctions take effect, crude prices likely will surge over an expected reduction in Iranian crude exports and increased tension in the region that could destabilize global crude flows.
• Updated Hurricane Forecast. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center predicts a total of 9 to 13 named storms winds of 39 mph or greater, of which four to seven will become hurricanes, including up to two major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or greater. An average six-month hurricane season produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes. The mere threat of a hurricane in the United States would cause pump prices to spike, likely regionally, because of constrained supply and delivery challenges.
AAA also has released its 2018 Gas Watcher’s Guide, which includes tips on saving money and conserving fuel.
Among tips in the guide:
• If your vehicle’s engine does not require premium or mid-grade fuel, don’t buy it. Using anything other than regular grade is simply a waste of money.
• Don’t top off your gas tank. Stop filling after the automatic nozzle shuts off the second time.
• If you have to replace a gas cap, make sure it is the right one for your car. An ill-fitting cap will increase emissions and trigger the “check engine” light.
• Keep track of gas mileage. If you notice a sudden decrease in fuel economy, have your vehicle checked by a technician to ensure it is operating properly.