NEW YORK — The price of a gallon of gas may soon start with a "2" across much the country.
Gasoline prices typically decline in autumn, and this year they are being pulled even lower by falling global oil prices. By the end of the year, up to 30 states could have an average gasoline price of less than $3 a gallon.
The average in Springfield, Mo., is already below $3, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service and GasBuddy.com. Several other cities are on the brink.
"And there will be more, many more," Kloza said. Cities in high-priced states such as California and New York will not be among them, though, and that will probably keep the national average above $3. He predicts the national average will end the year between $3.15 and $3.25 per gallon.
At the current national average of $3.35 a gallon, gas is already a dime cheaper than a year ago at this time. This year, the U.S. average peaked at $3.70 a gallon in April. In 2013, the peak was $3.79, and in 2012 it was $3.94.
AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins said he believes Floridians could enjoy a plunge in gas prices in the coming weeks or months, especially in Tampa Bay and Orlando, which routinely have some of the lowest average prices in the state.
Currently, gas prices in Florida are averaging $3.28 per gallon. Tampa's average is $3.20, the lowest in the state. West Palm Beach reported the highest prices, an average of $3.42.
Lower fuel prices help the economy in a few ways. They make goods cheaper to ship and travel more affordable. Drivers are left with a few extra dollars in their pockets. And consumers grow confident enough to make other purchases, perhaps even a big-ticket item.
Fall is when refiners are allowed to switch to a cheaper blend of gasoline for the cooler months, and driving demand declines after summer vacations have ended.
In 2013, the national average fell 28 cents per gallon between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31. This year, gasoline had a head start. It entered September at its lowest level for the start of the month in four years — and the price of crude oil was rapidly heading lower.
The drop in global crude oil prices is a surprise. Despite increasing violence and turmoil in the Middle East, the world's most important oil-producing region, the global price of oil has fallen below $95 a barrel, close to its lowest level in more than two years.
Times staff writer Katie Mettler contributed to this report.