LATHAM, Kan. -- The cold blast may have many Kansans reaching to turn up the thermostat, but that will have them reaching for their pocketbooks.
The price of a gallon of propane -- the only home heating option for most rural residents -- has more than doubled this week. Natural gas prices are not far behind. They are at their highest level in two years.
"I wish I would have been sitting down," joked Butler County resident Lynn Ellis, who had to purchase 200 gallons of propane Thursday.
Sitting down, she said, may have made it easier to absorb the sticker shock of the nearly $350 per tank it cost to put 100 gallons of propane in each of the two tanks on her property. A supplier told her the price could reach $5.30 per gallon this week.
"If you go through 100 gallons a month, that's $530 a month you're going to be spending on propane," Ellis said. "That's not even counting electricity."
The sudden jump in price is tough on local suppliers, too.
"It's getting rougher by the day," said Mike Tanner, General Manager of Wayman Oil in Mulvane. "We're just hoping everybody can hold on."
Tanner said his distributors are blaming the tight supply on "a perfect storm" of events. First, he said, a wet fall meant grain elevators had to use more propane than usual to dry harvested crops. A major propane pipeline was also unavailable just before cold weather slammed most of the United States earlier this month. Add to that, the amount of propane being exported from the United States.
Suppliers like Wayman Oil are paying the higher prices right along with consumers, Tanner said.
"It's not something that we're excited about," he said. "I can tell you that it's not the retail marketer forward to the customer."
Ellis wishes she had refilled her tanks before this week.
"A month ago, right before Christmas, I was going to have it filled up and it was $2.05 and I thought, 'Wow. That's way too much,' so I didn't. Now I wish I would've."
She is now planning to take the gamble this summer of forward contracting next winter's propane supply, hopefully locking in a lower price by paying for her propane in advance.
Tanner expects to see an increase in the number of his customers interested in the same thing.
"People who bought contract fuel this summer were able to buy their fuel for $1.60 a gallon and it's already paid for and it's already there for them," he said.