The severe cold conditions that have gripped the Northeast and Midwest have pushed propane gas prices up as the supply has been significantly reduced.
The natural gas that is compressed into a transportable liquid is commonly used as a fuel for central heating, engines, barbecue grills and portable stoves.
Lately, higher than usual demand has been depleting supply. Propane tanks are costing consumers $200 or more to fill up than a month ago. A 500-gallon tank that cost about $1,000 to fill now would cost $1,500 or more. Like drivers, many residential customers do not fill their tanks completely as a way to control costs.
Ron Brodwater, general manager of Midwestern Propane Gas Co. in Belleville, said he has seen propane prices jump from around $1.99 a gallon to $2.95 over the past month. The last time he witnessed such a large sudden swing in prices was the winter of 1989, when temperatures fell below zero for days around Christmastime that year.
"Typically these situations last a few weeks, then it's over," Brodwater said. "It's not a panic-type situation. However, it's early in the winter and there is a lot of cold weather left going into February."
Phil Thompson, of Thompson's Gas Co. said those with propane tanks can eventually expect to pay $2 more per gallon. But he said prices are unpredictable right now. Whereas usually prices may change once a day, lately they have been changing as much as two or three times daily.
"There is definitely a shortage," Thompson said. "In some parts of the country it's a delivery issue because of the weather and other places it's more of a shortage than a delivery issue. Right now, the roads are good here and we can make deliveries. It's a matter of getting it out east and northeast where they have more propane but can't get it around with the snow."
For the time being, Brodwater said he is working to conserve supply by limiting the number of deliveries.
"Conservation is a good idea," he said. "We want to make sure there is enough fuel to go around and for customers stay warm and help keep their bills down."
Homeowners who use natural gas and electricity will see higher heating bills because they'll use more fuel. But prices won't rise dramatically because utilities buy only a small portion of the fuel at the elevated prices.
The Associated Press contributed information to this story.