(Photo Illustration by Miguel Villagran/Getty Images)
(NBC) -- U.S. gas prices have hit a four-month high with 32 straight days of increases at the pump bringing misery to spring breakers and job hunters.
The Automobile Association of America said Monday that the national average for a gallon of regular is $3.73 -- 43 cents more than a month ago -- with prices topping $4 in California and Hawaii.
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"It's become the perfect storm," AAA spokeswoman Nancy White said.
White and other experts blamed a series of factors for the uptick that started in mid-January:
- Some refineries are switching over from winter to summer fuel, which is more expensive to produce.
- A Hess refinery in New Jersey that supplies 7.5 percent of the Northeast's gas is closing.
- Midwinter maintenance has led some refineries to go offline temporarily.
- Demand for gas is up, fueled in part by the return of more people to working.
The price hikes come at a bad time, however, for Americans who are still out of work or facing smaller paychecks because of higher payroll taxes.
"Try the bad gas prices while trying to find a job," one unemployed driver vented on the Facebook page for GasBuddy.com, which tracks fuel prices around the nation.
Patrick DeHaan, an analyst with the website, said many cities have seen increases of 8 cents to 20 cents in just the past week. "This is what we usually see in late winter, early spring, but prices have started to rally two months earlier than usual," he said.
He said his firm's unscientific user surveys suggest that the pinch at the pump could lead to less travel over spring break in March and April and changes in plans for Memorial Day and even the summer.
"There are people predicting that it will go over $5 a gallon," DeHaan said. "I don't believe that's possible, but it shows how concerned motorists are."
On the Facebook page, many posters were worried that the rise in gas prices could cause an economic meltdown.
"When you raise prices on gas people will stop spending money because they need to get back and forth to work and pay their bills each month," one wrote.
"If it's this high right now, imagine what it's gonna be here in a few months!" another fretted.
White of AAA said that based on historical trends, prices will likely continue to rise into the warmer months and driving season, but not at the same pace they did in 2011 and 2012, when developments in Libya and Iran caused big spikes.
"That is not so much part of the picture right now," she said. "But that could change should something else happen overseas."