While Hurricane/Tropical Storm Isaac was about 1,000 miles away from Toledo on Wednesday, weather forecasters said its influence could expand beyond the local price of gasoline by the weekend.
To Perrysburg resident Kurt Beach, Hurricane/Tropical Storm Isaac is just an excuse to run up gasoline prices before the Labor Day holiday weekend.
"It's price gouging from predicting the shutdown of oil in New Orleans," Mr. Beach said Wednesday afternoon while pumping $3.949-per-gallon gasoline into his car at a BP station in Northwood.
His response? Buying just $15 worth, in hopes that prices will retreat in the days to come.
"When it's this price, I don't completely fill up," Mr. Beach said.
But as an estimated 33 million Americans plan to hit the road for trips 50 miles or more from home this weekend, a Marathon Petroleum spokesman said Wednesday that the refinery and oil-platform shutdowns in the Gulf Coast region are real, and they are primarily responsible for the 34-cents-per-gallon price increase at Toledo's gas pumps in the past week.
"The Midwest is short on product, so it imports a lot of barrels from the Gulf Coast," said Shane Pochard, at Marathon Petroleum headquarters in Findlay, noting it is an industrywide phenomenon not limited to his company.
And while Isaac was about 1,000 miles away from Toledo on Wednesday, weather forecasters said its influence could expand beyond the local price of gasoline by the weekend.
As of late afternoon on Wednesday, the National Weather Service expected showers and thunderstorms from Isaac's remnants to arrive in northwest Ohio by Sunday and become more widespread that night.
"It's kind of up in the air right now," said Marty Thompson, a meteorologist at the weather service in Cleveland.
Mr. Thompson said thunderstorms in the forecast for Saturday afternoon and evening are associated with a cold front expected to drop south into the Toledo area that day, not from the tropical system.
Today and especially Friday, meanwhile, are expected to be much warmer than normal for the end of August in northwest Ohio, although the 94-degree high predicted for Friday would still be well shy of the 101-degree record for Aug. 31 set in 1951.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the gasbuddy.com Web site reported an average price in Toledo for self-service regular of $3.930 per gallon, based on reports from its volunteer spotters. That was 33.6 cents per gallon higher than a week ago, with the greatest price movement having occurred on Tuesday.
Local gasoline prices are nearly as high as they got in late March, when prices crested just under $4 per gallon. That was the highest they have been all year, and are the highest in Toledo ever for this time of year.
But Bernie Gedert, who filled up his diesel pickup at the Northwood BP, said higher fuel prices won't alter his plans for a trip to Grand Rapids, Mich., to celebrate his daughter's birthday this weekend.
"She's only going to be 50 once," said Mr. Gedert, of Bono, Ohio, who remained skeptical about the true cause for the price hike.
"The wind blows, so the price goes up," he said. "Part of the reason for it is the holiday weekend."
Mr. Beach, meanwhile, said he has no long-distance travel plans — the farthest he expects to go this weekend is the Fulton County Fair.
AAA, formerly the American Automobile Association, said its preholiday travel survey shows a 2.9 percent increase in holiday travelers during the Labor Day period, which starts today and ends Monday.
The expected increase is "driven by improving consumer confidence compared to one year ago and Americans' unwavering desire to travel," the auto club said.
"In the absence of strong economic growth that might fuel a significant boost in travel volume, it is an encouraging sign that Americans continue to prioritize travel," Bill Sutherland, vice president of AAA Travel Services, said. "Travel is still within Americans' discretionary spending budget."
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