Sacramento-area motorists are paying nearly $4 a gallon for gasoline, yet energy experts are quick to say that things aren't so bad.
From a straight-up dollar standpoint, it turns out they're correct.
Consumers throughout the area, the state and the nation are paying less at the pumps than they were a year ago.
In Sacramento, for example, motorists are paying an average of $3.90 a gallon for gas, down 34.4 cents from a year ago, according to national gas price tracker GasBuddy.com.
On Wednesday, AAA put the statewide average price of unleaded regular at $4.05 a gallon, but that's still down 18 cents from last month and 28 cents from this time last year.
Nationally, AAA pegged Tuesday's average price of regular at $3.65 a gallon.
"It's a stark contrast from last year, when we saw the national average at $3.87 on this date, edging closer to the peak that occurred April 5 at $3.93," said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy. "The numbers don't lie. Retail gas prices this year have declined at a time when we're more accustomed to steady increases.
"Especially when we compare with last year, it reflects stronger refinery performance, (a) relatively smooth and uneventful transition to summer-blend gasoline and the absence of catalysts that could push prices in the other direction."
California was awash in catalysts at this time last year, when prices soared to $4.25 a gallon and higher.
Price drivers at that time included increased demand for fuel overseas, tensions in key oil-shipping Middle East nations, high crude oil prices pushed upward by speculators and a fire at BP's Cherry Point refinery in Blaine, Wash.
Now, even the weather seems to be working in favor of motorists in other parts of the nation.
Early spring snowstorms hammering the Midwest have dampened demand for gas. In Chicago, the average gas price of around $4.05 is a nation-leading 50 cents below the year-ago average.
"Have prices peaked for 2013? That will have to be a rhetorical question for now," said Gregg Laskoski, another GasBuddy analyst. "The variables that could give us the answer are too numerous to list."
One potential red flag is crude oil.
Benchmark crude for May delivery rose 24 cents Wednesday to close at a five-week high of $96.58 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude has gained $4.13, or 4.5 percent, in the past four sessions.
Call The Bee's Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.