Motorists bracing for the annual seasonal spike in gas prices are likely to be hit with an unexpected jolt this week.
Blame the conflict in Syria.
Drivers in the Bradenton area already are facing the highest April gas prices in four years, and analysts are predicting costs will surge upwards of 15 cents because of the tensions in the Middle East.
On Monday, crude oil was more than $67 per barrel, the highest since December 2014, pushing the national average to $2.71 per gallon, the highest since July 2015.
Locally, motorists in the Bradenton-Sarasota area were seeing one of the lowest averages ($2.56) in the state, though that's likely of little consolation since prices are about 20 cents higher than a year ago.
The state average was $2.63 to start the work week.
What's worse? While analysts are predicting a 15-cent surge this week, "Prices could rise even more, depending on how the crude market responds to the latest news of a U.S. missile strike over the weekend," AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins said.
According to GasBuddy, which tracks fuel prices, motorists weren't seeing much of a difference in prices at Manatee ($2.56 average) and Sarasota ($2.57) outlets. Nearby, Pinellas ($2.51) and Hillsborough ($2.54) stations were a bit less expensive.
“There is tremendous volatility in the oil and gasoline market,” AAA spokeswoman Jeanette Casselano said. “Crude oil is selling at high prices compared to previous years and domestic gasoline demand has been high most of the winter among the factors all driving gas prices up and draining consumers’ wallets.”
Patrick DeHaan, the head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, said gas prices have peaked in mid-May the past few years as refineries finish the transition to a more-expensive summer blend.
That trend could continue this year as well, he said.
"That could be very close to what we expect this time around," DeHaan said. "Refinery maintenance has gone well thus far, and gasoline supply has continued to push higher as more refiners conclude their work. With the transition to summer gasoline also wrapping up, the reasons for gas prices to rise will shrink."
The Tampa Bay ($2.54), Orlando ($2.54), Bradenton-Sarasota ($2.56) and (Melbourne-Titusville ($2.56) regions had the least-expensive averages in the state on Monday, according to AAA data.
The most expensive were the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach ($2.80), Pensacola ($2.77) and West Palm Beach-Boca Raton ($2.76) regions.