Labor Day travel forecast: higher gas prices, more people on the road

Motorists looking to get out of town for Labor Day weekend could see an increase in gas prices because Hurricane Ida shut down oil refineries, but pent-up demand during summer’s last hurrah likely won’t affect the large amount of vehicles expected on roadways, experts say.

“Until the power is restored, it’s too early to know the full impact of any damage Ida caused on the oil and gas industry, but motorists regionally can expect price fluctuations leading into Labor Day weekend,” AAA spokeswoman Jeanette McGee said in a statement. “Typically, a category 4 storm could mean three plus weeks before refineries are back to normal operations, while offshore production is more likely to resume this week.”

Kara Hitchens of AAA Miami Valley said while there are no forecasts for how many people will drive or fly somewhere this weekend, based on this summer’s trend of increased travel, “those who plan on either hitting the road or flying are going to have plenty of company.” Memorial Day and Independence Day both saw “near pre-pandemic numbers” when it comes to travel, Hitchens said.

“We’re expecting the same for Labor Day,” she said. “Even with the rising COVID numbers, unfortunately, at this point, we know people are still very anxious to get out and travel. Labor Day is kind of the ‘last hurrah’ of summer before winter sets in.

While many people may not plan to travel quite as far because most children are back in school, they still opt for a trip of some kind over the holiday weekend, Hitchens said.

Summer gas prices have been “kind of all over the board,” up one week and down the next, and even rising and falling within the same week anywhere from 5 to 10 centers, Hitchens said.

“With Hurricane Ida, she’s kind of thrown a wrench in things,” she said. “Some refineries in the Gulf did shut down ... so this week is going to be a little difficult to predict what’s going to happen.”

As refineries come back online, gas prices could go back down, but the nation still must deal with the underlying issue of the summer, namely the availability of fuel truck drivers to get gasoline to the pumps, Hitchens said.

Because of increased demand for travel and airlines adding flights, the cost of air travel is starting to come back down, but staffing issues have made things tough on airlines, Hitchens said.

Gas prices nationally are expected to hit, on average, $3.11 per gallon during the holiday weekend, according to an analysis from GasBuddy, a tech company that operates apps and websites based on finding real-time fuel prices at gas stations. This summer also has seen the highest average gas prices since the summer of 2014, GasBuddy said.

Dayton was among the top 20 price changes for metropolitan areas nationwide in the past week, increasing to 2.939, a rise of 12 cents, according to GasBuddy.

“I expect the national average to rise in the neighborhood of 5 to 15 cents per gallon in the next couple of weeks, far smaller than the impact from Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, but with damage assessments still to come, it’s possible we see slight deviation from that,” Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, said in a statement. “While Colonial Pipeline shut Lines 1 and 2 as a precaution, it’s highly unlikely that this will cause any long-term disruption to fuel supply like we saw months ago after the company was hacked.”

De Haan said the biggest question for refineries will be the flooding, which could alter the rise in gas prices, but the odds of a massive surge in gas prices nationwide are extremely low.

Tuesday’s gas price average for Ohio was $2.94, according to AAA. In the Miami Valley region the average was $2.93.

“While these prices are high, it is the average,” Hitchens said. “Consumers can do some homework using various apps to find the lowest gas prices, including the AAA app.”

Gas prices in the Dayton area by mid-afternoon Tuesday ranged from $2.74 to $3.19, according to GasBuddy.

Ohio and Miami Valley gas prices Tuesday were lower than the national gas price average of $3.154 as of 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. That’s up from Monday’s average of $3.13 and last week’s average of $3.147 and last year’s COVID-19-influenced average of $2.25, but down only slightly from last month’s average of $3.169.

The end of the summer travel season typically sees decreasing demand and refineries making the move to revert back to winter blends of fuel, which are less expensive to produce, according to AAA.

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