Nightly News   |  February 18, 2013

Soaring gas prices: how long will it last?

Gas prices have been climbing at a rapid pace, with 32 straight days of increases culminating in a four-month high. The national average for a gallon of regular gas is now $3.73. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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>>> a kind of regressive tax that hurts all americans, and especially if you commute by car. if you filled up prior to the workweek or filled up to head out on a presidents' day holiday break , then you know what has happened to the price of gas , up every day for a month now. and still rising . and those americans with no choice but to buy gas are highly suspicious as to what's causing this increase right now. it's where we begin tonight. tom costello is in bethesda, maryland. tom, good evening.

>> reporter: hi, brian. good evening to you. $3.99 at this gas station right here. the timing is not good for this. the economy is fragile, and all the money that is going into gas tanks, it would and could be going into instead groceries, maybe a movie out, maybe a dinner out. at gas stations across the country, customers are asking the same question. what could possibly send gas prices up 43 cents in a month? that's an extra $8.60 on a 20-gallon car. in chicago, more than that, up 70 cents in a month to $4.22 a gallon. at this station, $4.29. for taxi driver ray hubert, that's real money .

>> it digs into my pocket. i pay for my own gas, nobody else pays for it.

>> reporter: in los angeles , up 50 cents in a month to $4.28, some stations charging more than $5 a gallon.

>> it doesn't make sense. we just left vegas. we went to vegas last weekend and the prices were like $1.50 less.

>> reporter: from coast to coast , portland to portland, gas prices have risen every day for the last month.

>> the rising gasoline prices is extraordinary for this time of year. we usually see this happen as we go into the summer driving season.

>> reporter: what's going on? analysts say the reasons are many. china is demanding more oil every day to power its growing economy. just as opec cut some of its output. and international sanctions are reducing the amount of iranian oil on the world market . at home, refineries are shutting down from maintenance as they prepare to switch to a summer blend. then market speculation and a weaker dollar play a role. in san diego --

>> hey, i'm a waitress. come on. i'm not making 200 grand a year.

>> reporter: the price at the pump can quickly add to the cost of the daily commute. a 40-mile round-trip, 22 days a month, averaging 22 mpg at $3.50 a gallon costs $140 a month. at today's average of $3.73 a gallon, $149 a month. at $4.25 a gallon, $170. and at $4.50 a gallon, $180 a month.

>> we have to work, so we keep coming to work every day. but you have to put gas in your car to come to work.

>> reporter: 43 cents in a month. the national average, $3.73 right now. and the experts are saying they don't think that we will get over $4 a gallon for a national average. but california, illinois, will see over $4 and approaching $5 in the coming weeks, brian.

>> a lot of money. tom costello starting us off in bethesda, maryland. thanks.