It affects everybody and is virtually unavoidable: gasoline prices are on the rise again.
The average price for a gallon of gas in Florida is now $3.87, 10 cents higher than a week ago and 10 cents higher than the national average, according to AAA Auto Club.
Although prices are expected to continue to climb in the coming weeks, AAA spokeswoman Jessica Brady said there are signs of improvement in the marketplace.
"We have been paying record-breaking prices for the month of February," Brady said. "We're starting to see a bit of slowdown in the rate of increase now. It's likely we could see prices increase throughout the next couple of weeks, but that rate of increase is really starting to slow down and we're even seeing a little bit of stability in some markets."
Brady said three factors have led to the price hike.
Usually, the oil refineries reduce their operations in mid- to late February for annual maintenance, which cuts the amount of gasoline they produce. This year, Brady said the refineries' maintenance shutdowns started in early February, which has affected prices more than normal.
Also, the prices for crude oil started increasing in December, but it wasn't until the end of January that prices at the pump started going up nationally. The final factor is that refineries are starting to produce the more expensive summer fuel blend.
James McDonald of Destin said he has to bare and grit his teeth when he sees gas prices go up. He said he tries to find savings where he can.
A few years ago when prices were on the rise and he worked in Destin, he would carpool with his wife and said they saved about $200 a month. Now that he works offshore in Louisiana, he tries to fill up there or in Alabama because he said prices are usually about 20 cents cheaper than in Northwest Florida.
Rather than driving around looking for the lowest prices like people used to do, McDonald downloaded an app for his iPhone that tracts the cheapest gas.
"It's kind of been like a game to find where the cheapest gas is, and Niceville has got some really cheap gas," he said.
Kenneth Nagel of Baker said gas prices are getting tough to handle for most people as incomes stay flat. He said the only thing that makes the increases bearable is how they are made gradually.
"It's so high anyway, another $2 doesn't make any difference," Nagel said. "But when it makes a $5 or a $10 difference at one time, that hurts. That's when it shows up.
"But right now it's only $2 or $3 more, and you don't really realize it," Nagel added. "Next month they'll knock it up another 50 cents and if they do it gradual like that they can get us without us complaining too much. But really, it's too much. It's crazy. It's killing us all."
Nagel said he has fueled up twice a week virtually every week at the Dodge's store on Eglin Parkway in Fort Walton Beach for decades because prices are so much lower than in the Baker and Crestview areas.
With the region being one of the most popular drive-to destinations in Florida, gas prices are a concern for tourism professionals. Still, they believe tourists will continue to visit.
"I don't think people are going to cancel their vacation to save $50," said Kate Wilkes, director of the Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Council. "Maybe they'll make (their vacation) a little shorter or they won't go out to eat as much.
"Hopefully, if they have to change their vacation plans maybe they'll make them not as long, maybe not spend as much money," Wilkes added.
Dan O'Byrne, director of the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council, said rising gas prices are a factor, but tourists seem to accept it and continue with their plans.
"In a general sense, you're concerned when any prices go up," O'Byrne said. "But on the ground here, I'm a little more confident just because of the strength of this destination as a spring break host, the strength of our prebookings and the relative desirability for people to come here and perhaps trade on other things.
"Some travel around the United States has become a part of people's DNA," he added. "Spring breakers coming to the Gulf is something they're going to do regardless of gas prices. If pushed to an extreme I guess they wouldn't come, but that would have to be pretty high. They're going come. They're going to have their vacation. Maybe they won't eat out as much."
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