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‘Hot Fuel’ Makes Summer Even Hotter

Today’s LA Times reports that summer weather is making gasoline more expensive. The “hot fuel” phenomenon, which is nothing new to long-haul truck drivers, means that gas stored at higher temperatures actually provides less energy per gallon. The LA Times explains that:

At 60 degrees, a gallon is 231 cubic inches. But when fuel is warmer than 60 degrees, the liquid expands, yielding less energy per gallon. When it’s colder, the fuel contracts. Gas stations and truck stops don’t have temperature-compensating devices, so the pumps dispense each gallon as if it is flowing at 60 degrees — and the stations charge customers as if they are getting government-standard gallons.

For warm weather states, “hot fuel” only adds insult to injury when it’s time to fill up at the pump. A new study in California found that, when averaged over a 12-month period, gasoline temperatures were 71.1 degrees — well above the 60-degree standard.

And that’s just the average. During the summer, when temperatures are higher, this phenomenon is aggravated. Experts estimate that Californians will pay the equivalent of $.08 more per gallon because of warmer fuel. $.08 doesn’t sound like much, but when gas is already over $4.00/gallon in many parts of the West Coast, that’s no small change.

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But doesn’t this phenomenon make prices higher every summer? Well, technically yes, but temperatures in California didn’t used to be so warm. Climate data shows that temperatures risen in nearly all parts of California between 1950 to 2000 — averaging an increase of nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Again, this may not seem like a lot, but when motorists, and airlines, are burning through millions of gallons of fuel per day, this “hot fuel” summer cocktail equates to an additional $3 billion a year for consumers.