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Falling gas prices have brought a little bit of holiday cheer at the gas pump where many in the region had grumbled while the price of unleaded hovered around the $4 mark.

The average price of unleaded regular has dropped to $3.75 a gallon in the Buffalo area, down from $3.89 a month ago, according to GasBuddy.com, which tracks gas price trends across the country. Nationally, the average price was down to $3.27 a gallon as of Saturday.

The downward trend can be attributed to two things, according to Gregg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com.

Gas prices tend to come down this time of year because refineries switch to producing a winter blend of gasoline that is cheaper to make, he said. In addition, East Coast refineries hit hard by Superstorm Sandy are back up and running, he added. “Some were flooded, some lost electricity and some had both,” Laskoski said. “Unfortunately, the refineries are not terribly forthcoming in terms of reporting their damage,” he said, so analysts often have to infer from government reports on supplies to figure out what’s going on.

East Coast refineries are now close to normal operations, Laskoski said. Laskoski expects prices to continue to go down, although incrementally, through the end of the year – somewhere in the five- to 10-cent range.

But as happens every year when refineries start getting ready to switch to making the more expensive summer blends, prices are expected to start creeping back up in late January or February.

The lower prices come as travel experts expect 1.5 million more people to travel during the last couple of weeks in December than did last year. About 84.4 million people are expected to travel by car and another 5.6 million will be flying between Dec. 22 and Jan. 1, according to AAA of Western and Central New York spokesman Steve Pacer.

“We’re seeing the decreased gas prices are playing a little bit of a role” in the increased travel, Pacer said. He said consumer confidence is at a four-year high, as well. “This is one of those holidays that if you want to spend it with your family, you’re going to make it happen,” he said.

Pacer said there’s no breakdown of which days during that 10-day spread that will be the busiest on the roads. “Obviously, if this is going to be the busiest since 2006, it’s going to be busy,” he said.

email: mbecker@buffnews.com