As a brown Christmas is approaching combined with falling gas prices across South Dakota, hitting the road for the holidays will provide an additional gift for area travelers.

According to Marilyn Buskohl, South Dakota AAA director of public affairs, the national average gas price was at $2.349 as of Thursday, while South Dakota currently sits at $2.320. The average price in Mitchell on Friday was $2.129.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Buskohl said, noting South Dakota is seeing a nearly 12-cent drop in gas prices compared to the national average.

Buskohl said some of the factors playing into the lower prices around the state and nation are the dramatic decrease in the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil and the seasonal switch to winter blend fuel.

In 2017, WTI crude oil prices ended the year with an average of $51 per barrel, while prices came in at $46.15 per barrel on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration website.  

“Gas prices normally go down in the winter, because winter blends are cheaper to produce than summer blends,” Buskohl added.

One reason winter blend fuel is cheaper to produce than summer blend is the higher amount of additives summer blend requires.

In comparison to the prices last year at this time, Buskohl said South Dakota is roughly 9 cents lower, and she foresees the prices remaining that way for the immediate future.

“While something can happen tomorrow that could cause gas prices to soar again, for right now, I think we will be enjoying some better gas prices,” Buskohl said.  

Though Buskohl acknowledged how volatile the fuel industry can be, she said the supply for fuel is at its peak right now.

While the forecast for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day calls for clear skies with temperatures in the mid-30s, a brown Christmas will provide ideal road conditions for holiday travelers around South Dakota this holiday season.

Despite being located in the Upper Midwest, a brown Christmas in South Dakota is not that rare. According to Tim Masters, a technician at the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, the Mitchell area averages close to a 50 percent chance of a white Christmas annually.

Given the pleasant forecast and low gas prices, Buskohl expects to see an increase in travel across much of the state for this holiday season.

“I think gas prices are kind of fueling holiday travelers’ decision to hit the road,” Buskohl said. “South Dakota is certainly in a good spot for now.”