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Gas prices surge after winter storm hits Gulf Coast

AAA says the national average is $2.60. That's up 10 cents from a week ago.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — According to AAA, the national average is $2.60 per gallon. That's an increase of about 10 cents in just one week.

Gas prices typically rise when the Gulf Coast is getting hit during hurricane season, but now it's a cold snap oil refineries down south were not prepared to handle. 

That stops production and causes the demand to surge.

"Refineries go offline, and then they survey if any damage has been done. Once things are back up and running, then prices level out again. Until things thaw out, many of the gas refineries will more than likely take a week or so to be up and running again," said April Engram, a communications specialist with AAA of Western & Central New York.

With about 20 percent of the country's refineries shut down, you can expect those higher prices at the pump to stick around for a bit. 

Engram says gas prices were already on the rise in New York State before the winter storm hit the Gulf Coast.

She says it was at a much slower pace though, due to the steady rise in demand, as more people got back on the roads again. 

The average on Friday in New York State for gas is $2.67. In Buffalo, it's $2.58.

Petroleum analyst Patrick De Haan with GasBuddy says you can expect to see an increase of 5 to 15 cents a gallon over the next weeks.

You're looking at about $2.65 to $2.75 a gallon when oil refineries reopen.

De Haan says you shouldn't expect it to stay like that forever, though. 

"Keep in mind, the next chapter of rising gas prices will come soon thereafter, when we start to transition to cleaner, summer gasoline. That's something that starts in early to mid-March, so probably not going to see much of a break after this is factored in," De Haan said.

The EPA mandates oil refineries switch to the more expensive gas to reduce air pollution during the summer.

To save money, experts say it's best to shop around for the cheapest gas station in your area, using a credit card offering rebates, and using loyalty programs at gas stations or grocery stores which have gas stations.

Both AAA and GasBuddy have lists of gas stations in your area so you can compare prices for free.