Caught Between Hurricanes Harvey And Irma: Florida Gasoline Shortages


Following Hurricane Harvey and anticipating Hurricane Irma, Florida has created a shortage on gasoline across the state. The problem is getting worse, but need not be.

gas station author

Gas station all sold out in Florida, September 6, 2017

While gasoline prices rightly rose after the devastation following Hurricane Harvey, the shortages were very brief. 30% of U.S. refining capacity was knocked, but the recovery began shortly after the destruction. Major refineries restarted operations only a few days after the hurricane, and even those refineries most severely impacted by the flooding are already beginning the process to restart production. Pipelines also shut down briefly, but began restarting operations within a few days. The most severe of these outages, the Colonial Pipeline, resumed most of its operations by Wednesday morning, September 6. Other than higher prices, there should not have been any significant issues with gasoline supply by the middle of the week of September 4.


However, Florida is seeing gas stations all sold out, even though Hurricane Irma is not expected to hit the mainland of the state for maybe five more days. This is not due to the shut down of the Colonial Pipeline, because most of Florida does not obtain its gasoline from the by pipeline. Almost all of Floridas gasoline supply is either shipped by tanker or barge to ports in the Panhandle, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, or Cape Canaveral, or delivered by truck .

Gasoline Energy Information Agency

Sources of gasoline in the Florida

Then why the shortages? Because the panic created by the state over the expected next hurricane, Hurricane Irma, has been worse than anything before.

If you live in Orlando, the Panhandle, or Jacksonville, and you are buying gasoline in anticipation of the storm, you better be bringing a large number of red canisters with you. If you are filling your car now for the storm that may not arrive until Monday or Tuesday, you will likely need more gasoline by then. Almost half of the workweek has yet to be completed. There are Hurricane preparation tasks and trips to the Hardware store and grocer this weekend. If you fill up now, you will likely have to fill up again before Irma arrives.


However, Florida issued a state of emergency for the entire state (all 67 counties, whether Irma impacts them or not) on September 4, almost a full week before Irma might hit the mainland. The ensuing rush to prepare early exacerbated a supplier-friendly gasoline market and created shortages in just two days.

I have declared a state of emergency for every FL county to help state, federal and local governments work together as we prepare for #Irma.

Rick Scott (@FLGovScott) September 4, 2017

Early preparation is good, and the state says it is helping retailers bring in more water, sandbags and plywood . Concern in this situation is appropriate, but caution is better than fear. Buying gasoline a week in advance is panic and has led to motorists driving around for up to three hours to find gasoline, when daily life activities must still go on. Be prepared, not panicked.