Is The Polar Vortex To Blame For Higher Gas Prices?


Ok, I admit it. I wrote that headline as a result of it encompasses a few teachable moments. The Polar Vortex shouldn’t be some storm or “Arctic hurricane” that involves get us. However, as I wrote in earlier weeks, a disruption within the Polar Vortex did permit extraordinarily chilly air to spill into the United States inflicting a disaster in Texas, the Great Plains, and far of the South. The different subtlety within the title is a dig on the ever-present tendency for the general public and media to attribute causation to singular occasions when there are seemingly a number of components at play. Throughout my social media feeds, I’m seeing complaints about rising gasoline costs within the U.S. and misplaced blame so determined to discover whether or not the winter storm contributed.

It seems that the reply is probably going sure. Even earlier than the unhealthy storm, Irina Slav wrote this on February 4th at, “U.S. gas prices are also enjoying an improvement, albeit a lot more moderate than the $30 per mmBtu the Asian spot market saw last month….What’s more, the cold spell may last a while, keeping prices higher.” This means that gasoline costs had been already on the uptick globally. This rationalization is rooted in primary financial ideas that you simply in all probability discovered about in highschool and school.

During a lot of 2020, manufacturing of oil and pure gasoline within the United States was down due to the coronavirus pandemic in accordance with Slav. According to, gasoline costs declined by 16.9% from 2019 to 2020. As extra points of the financial system “normalize,” demand has steadily elevated. High demand and low supply are a recipe for larger costs. Of course, some political opportunists are blaming President Biden and different components of the kitchen sink. There can also be a well known seasonal cycle and one thing very acquainted presently of yr regardless of a pandemic. The U.S. Energy Information Agency website points out that, “Historically, retail gasoline prices tend to gradually rise in the spring and peak in late summer when people drive more frequently. Gasoline prices are generally lower in winter months (graphic above).”

I’ve talked about provide, demand, and seasonal cycles. The massive winter storm in Texas actually didn’t assist issues both. writes, “The national average has increased 17.9 cents per gallon in the last two weeks, thanks to extreme cold weather in Texas shutting down refining capacity.” I’m a scientist so digging deeper into the information is way extra interesting to me than whining on social media. According to the Energy Information Administration, Texas refinery utilization charges declined to 68.6% due to chilly climate associated pauses in current weeks. Refineries alongside The Gulf Coast skilled utilization reductions of 23.7%. went on to notice, “Typically, with such a dramatic decline in refinery utilization, oil inventories would climb at least several million barrels, but flows of crude oil likely slowed as well due to the drop in oil imports as the Houston Shipping Channel closed.” The map under sneakers that a lot of the nation’s refinery capability skilled brutal chilly situations previously month.

This story is a cautionary story additionally in regards to the continued vulnerability of infrastructure to excessive climate occasions.