Well, maybe it"s not quite time to greet the summer. In astronomical terms, it starts at the moment of the summer solstice, which will occur at precisely 5:45 a.m. on June 21 this year (I know it sounds crazy, but it varies). However, one thing doesn"t vary from year to year: the conventional summer that runs from Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day weekend. Boats, beaches, bikinis, cookouts, and long summer evenings are the hallmarks of the season, as well as mosquitoes, picnic ants, sunburn, and rising gasoline prices. I suppose you could put on some mosquito repellent (or eat a lot of garlic), step on the ants, and wear sunscreen to ward off the first three, but I don"t know what we can do about the last one.
Then again, maybe gasoline prices won"t rise all that much after all. I looked at some monthly gasoline prices and, while it"s true that they tend to rise during the summer months, in fact they often peak during the winter. In 1997 and 1998, they crested in January; in 1999 it was in December. The 1999 peak probably had more to do with rising supply than anything else. The oil glut in the late 1990s was so extreme that the average U.S. retail price of regular gasoline was less than a buck per gallon in January 1999, so it really had nowhere to go but up.
Other factors come into play. In 2005 retail gasoline peaked at $2.91 in September. That was shortly after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita tore through the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Coast. It was more than 4 bucks per gallon in 2008, but that was driven largely by speculator frenzy in the petroleum markets.
So what"s normal? In any given year, the price of retail gasoline peaks about 12 percent above its average price. We"re not quite halfway through 2009, but so far the average U.S. retail price for regular gasoline has been $2.02 per gallon. It"s now $2.29 per gallon, an increase of 13 percent. Barring a weather disaster or some other upset in the petroleum market, the worst might just be over.