Where Are the Highest Gas Prices in the Country? (Hint: Not In Cali)

California's not the only place feeling pain at the pump.

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When you think of ridiculously high gas prices, California comes most immediately to mind—and rightly so. After all, it was among the first states to top the $4-per-gallon threshold, and it has the highest average gas prices of the lower 48 states at about $4.33 a gallon.

But a closer look at city-by-city data shows skyrocketing gas prices aren't just a pocketbook-pinching annoyance of the Golden State. According to Gasbuddy.com, Chicago, Ill. actually takes the cake when it comes to the highest average gas prices in the country where consumers pay almost $4.50 a gallon today.

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When looking at the cities that have seen the steepest hikes in gas prices, California doesn't show up on the list until 28th place. Gary, Ind. takes that prize, where prices have risen a whopping 76 cents per gallon on average over the past five weeks.

Other places in the Great Lakes region including Chicago, Lansing, Flint, and Milwaukee, have also suffered big price spikes at the pump to the tune of 67 cents a gallon and higher.

Why are drivers in the Midwest being slammed with some of the highest gas prices in the country? Aside from the usual suspects—volatility in the Middle East, growing demand from Asia, and state- and season-specific gas formulation requirements—America's heartland has had to grapple with maintenance issues at one of its largest refineries in Whiting, Ind.

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That has inhibited the refinery's ability to produce as much gasoline, putting pressure on the supply and helping to drive up prices more in the Midwest, says Gregg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst at Gasbuddy.com. With local refineries unable to produce as much gasoline, extra supply has to be piped or trucked in, which tacks on extra transportation costs.

"Any time you lose refining capacity at the largest refinery in the region, that's going to cause quite a spike," he adds. "That's exactly what we've seen in Ohio and in Michigan where gas prices have gone up 55 cents just in the past month."

Another more sinister reason is also to blame for consumers' pain at the pump. Some retailers game the system and intentionally price gasoline higher, Laskoski says, magnifying spikes in wholesale gasoline prices.

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"If a refinery has to reduce its output, that's certainly going to increase wholesale prices and that problem can be made worse if retailers jump on that and look to magnify their margins," he says.

To be sure, there is no shortage of misery when it comes what Californians pay at the gas station. On the list of average gas prices by city, the Golden State crowds out the top 10. Still, with gas prices soaring nationwide, there's pain at the pump everywhere, and—with the summer months approaching—no relief in sight.

mhandley@usnews.com