Get ready for traffic jams and other holiday travel headaches. If the chatter on Twitter and Facebook is right, a whole lot more Americans are going to be on the road and in the air this Memorial Day weekend.
Conversations about Memorial Day and travel spiked up 46 percent from last year, according to the latest IBM Social Sentiment Index, which aggregates and analyzes public opinion based on tweets, blog posts, message boards, and other social media.
Lower gas prices might have something to do with it, experts say. The average price at the pump now sits at about $3.67 a gallon according to AAA, almost 5 cents lower than last week, and more than 17 cents down from a month ago.
Although $3.67 a gallon is still relatively high, the recent ease in prices might make packing up the kids in the minivan for a little roadtrip easier to swallow this holiday weekend, says Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com.
"A lot of users do anticipate driving because gas prices are lower," DeHaan says.
That is, unless you live on the West Coast. Nagging issues with refineries have crimped supply, driving gas prices into the neighborhood of $4.22 a gallon and higher. DeHaan expects those issues to be resolved in coming weeks as a major BP refinery that was damaged in a fire in February comes back online.
Still, West Coasters will likely see gas prices in the low $4 range for the remainder of the summer. Those who live east of the Rockies will see better prices around about $3.40 a gallon or so, DeHaan predicts, noting that gas prices have fallen anywhere from 10 to 30 cents in those regions over the past several weeks.
Why have gas prices eased ahead of the kickoff of the summer travel season? A lot of it has to do with gas formulations, DeHaan says. Between winter and summer months, refineries have to switch formulations, which causes some disruption in production and hence a predictable uptick in prices. Now that most of the transition is over, gas prices have gone down as refineries get back to full capacity.
"The switchover to summer gasoline has been made and now that's behind us there's not quite as much pressure for refineries," DeHaan adds. "Supply of summer gasoline is starting to increase and that leads to lower pressure on gas prices."
Meg Handley is a business reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter.