South Carolina drivers on Wednesday, for the first time this summer, paid more for a gallon of gasoline than on the same date last year, according to AAA Carolinas.


Since falling to a year-low of $2.91 on July 3, the average cost of a gallon of gas in South Carolina has climbed 49 cents to $3.41, from $3.40 a year ago.


“The outlook for the next few weeks is grim,” David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas, said in a statement. “In prior years, this was a time when prices started downward, but speculation in oil futures is driving the price up every day. The outlook for a fall price decline is bleak at this time.”


South Carolina is near the top of the nation as the state with the lowest gas prices, second only to Arizona.


Earlier this year, fuel prices in the state peaked at $3.74 on April 9 and fell steadily until July 3, when they began their upward creep.


Drivers in Georgia paid an average of $3.61 per gallon on Wednesday, up from $3.54 a week ago, $3.26 a month ago and $3.54 a year ago. Regular unleaded gas in North Carolina was $3.63 on Wednesday, up from $3.57 a week ago, $3.26 a month ago and $3.61 a year ago.


“They've been going up every day since (July 4), and probably will continue to go up,” Tom Crosby, vice president of communications for AAA Carolinas, said of the rising fuel prices.


Gas prices fell last year during the month of August from $3.52 to $3.39. So far this August, the price of gas has jumped 19 cents from $3.22 on Aug. 1 to $3.41 Wednesday.


“We're going in exactly the opposite direction,” Crosby said.


AAA Carolinas said that a rise in crude oil prices, from $78 at the end of June to $93 today, is partly to blame.


Crosby said speculation, driven by multiple global factors such as the economic recovery in Europe, is also responsible for the rising gas prices.


“If Europe's economy continues to improve, they consume more fuel, and that'll drive the price up because they're using more fuel,” he said.


A spike in corn prices to record levels above $8 a bushel is also contributing to the rise in gasoline prices.


Ethanol, a component of gasoline, is made from corn. The federal government downgraded its forecast for the country's corn crop, based on field observations. It now expects to see the lowest yielding crop in 17 years.


“I heard it's fixing to go up 18 cents,” said Nancy Rollins, of Aiken, on Tuesday as she filled up at the Sunoco on York Street.


Dre Cheatham, of Aiken, said he also heard about the corn prices, and now he only drives his 1969 Ford truck to and from work in Trenton.


“By the time I come home from work, go to the store to get me a cold beer, the gas is gone. These are outrageous prices right now,” he said, adding that he and some friends now carpool around town and split the cost of fuel.


Crosby said the rising corn prices don't have as much of an effect on gas prices as speculation.


Crosby anticipates prices to rise through the Labor Day weekend, which marks the end of the summer driving season.


“People are out driving with their kids, going on vacation,” he said. “After Labor Day, the kids are in school and those long driving vacations decrease greatly.”


Teddy Kulmalacovers the SRS and Courts beat for the Aiken Standard. He isa graduate of Clemson University and hails from Williston.