After watching gas prices spike last week, consumers have been calling their local heating oil companies to budget affordable rates before the high cost of winter energy bills hurts their wallets.
The price for a barrel of crude oil increased to more than $100 on Friday, yielding high price tags for gasoline and heating oil.
"Customers see the prices at the pump and know how it works. We see an influx of calls when people see these kind of prices at the pump," said Jim Sperry, chief financial officer of Aero Energy in New Oxford.
Gas prices rose to $3.95 at several stations in York County last week, and the average cost of heating oil was $3.22 per gallon.
That's 22 cents more than the $3 per gallon it sold for in September 2011 and close to last year's heating-season high of $3.30 per gallon, according to Bob Astor, wholesale fuels business manager for Shipley Energy.
From Nov. 1, 2011, through Feb. 29,
2012, the average price was $3.04 per gallon. The low was $2.76 per gallon, he said.
"There's not a huge increase this year, but there's an upward trend," Astor said.
On Aug. 14, heating oil was $3.07 per gallon. On Friday, it was $3.22 per gallon.
The causes: That 15-cent increase was likely spurred by geopolitical news last week, when reports revealed turmoil in the Middle East and the U.S. Federal Reserve announcing a stimulus plan to boost the economy.
"A stronger economy means more oil (being used)," Astor said. "When more oil is used and there's more demand, it means higher prices."
No consumer wants to hope for higher unemployment and a weak economy, but that's usually what it takes to lower oil costs, he said.
"There's a constant ebb and flow with the market. People always ask me if the market is going up or down, and I just say 'yes,'" Astor said.
Consumers have a right to be concerned that it's only September and the price of heating oil is this high, he said, but they should also realize it's part of a cycle.
"If cycles hold true, prices will go back down, possibly before the cold weather, or they may go up again," Astor said.
Cap programs: He recommended customers call their heating oil suppliers and take advantage of cap programs that lock in rates, protecting them from a fickle market.
Aero Energy offers several options to customers, including fixed-price programs, budgets, payment-on-delivery and pre-pay options, Sperry said.
"It helps them hedge the ups and downs in the market. Nobody can predict the market, but right now it's heading up," he said.
Fall and winter temperatures are also expected to be higher than usual, according to a meteorologist.
Though it might be a little wetter, there's a good chance for above-average temperatures from November through March, said Barry Lambert, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Satellite imagery shows sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is at record lows, which will contribute to warmer conditions in the northeast and create more cloud cover in the south.
"Tampa might only be in the upper 60s ... but York will probably be warmer than usual," he said.
-- Candy Woodall can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.