Tropical Storm Isaac is putting a damper on Labor Day weekend festivities in more ways than one.
High winds and stormy seas along the Gulf Coast are not only derailing travel plans for those in the storm's path, but oil refinery closures in the area could cause gas prices to spike across the country.
Even before the specter of a hurricane threatened the nation's oil-rich southern coast, gas prices had already been inching up. Now days before many Americans are planning to hit the road for the long Labor Day Weekend, Isaac's wrath is apparent: The national average for gas prices is now almost $3.83 per gallon, according to Thursday's AAA Daily Fuel Gauge, more than two cents higher per gallon than Wednesday and more than 20 cents higher per gallon than a year ago.
"We're going to seeing higher prices at most gas stations in the southeast," says Gregg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com. "There will be significant price increases over the next several days until we know exactly the damage Isaac delivers."
And while Isaac can be blamed for a good chunk of the rise in gas prices, the tropical storm roiling the Southeast isn't the only culprit. Even drivers outside the Gulf Coast region will likely see higher prices in coming weeks thanks to a number of factors.
For starters, refineries are beginning the process of switching the nation's fuel from the summer blend to the winter blend. The conversion process causes some disruption in production capacity, crimping supply and sending gas prices upward. Add in some unforeseen maintenance issues with several refineries across the country, and drivers probably won't see a price break at the pump any time soon.
[Read: Consumer Confidence Takes a Nosedive.]
Earlier this spring, the White House hinted at the possibility of tapping the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve—a reserve that holds about 700 million or so barrels of oil—to halt the steady climb in gas prices threatening to stifle the nation's economic recovery. That plan fizzled when gas prices began to decline, but the impact of Tropical Storm Isaac has put the option on the table again.
Nonetheless, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has remained mum on the subject.
"All options are on the table with regard to this issue," Carney told reporters Wednesday. "We are, of course, constantly monitoring global energy prices, global oil prices and their effect on the global economy. But I have no announcements for actions that [President Obama] might take, except to say that that option remains on the table."
Meg Handley is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @mmhandley.