Gasoline prices are spiking at the pump in some states, amid fears of spot shortages, even before the full impact of Hurricane Harvey becomes clear.
Drivers could soon be paying upwards of $2.60 per gallon nationally, as Labor Day, the summer's last big travel weekend, approaches. Analysts had expected about a 10 percent jump in prices, but those forecasts were revised up as worries about spot shortages increased.
Nearly one-third of U.S. refining output was affected in some way by Harvey and its extreme rainfall and flooding.
"This is 40 percent of the capacity for east of the Rockies so this is an unprecedented event and has some unknown outcomes. Prices are going to move higher and there's going to be some panic behavior," said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at Oil Price Information Service.
The shutdown of the biggest U.S. refinery, Motiva Enterprises, on Wednesday added to concerns. On Thursday, Motiva said that it was assessing the flooding and preparing to restart but did not have a timeline.
The price of unleaded gasoline at the pump rose by 4 cents nationally Thursday to an average of $2.44 a gallon. That is 10 cents above where it was just before Harvey hit the Gulf Coast, according to AAA.
In the spot wholesale market, prices were rising much faster than they were for consumers. Gulf Coast gasoline was up about 42 cents in the past week, and New York harbor prices were up more than 52 cents. Consumer retail prices have yet to catch up.
"My hunch is [retail] prices are going up from 30 to 60 cents [nationally] from where they were before Harvey, which was about $2.33," said Kloza.
In some select markets, prices jumped much more sharply overnight. Drivers in South Carolina, for instance, saw an 8 cent increase to $2.26 a gallon, which is 20 cents more than a week ago. Missouri residents were paying 10 cents more than they were on Wednesday, according to AAA.
"There will be dislocations, but it won't be an issue of the country running out of gasoline," said Kloza. "It will be things like Dallas is temporarily having problems getting gasoline to the stations ... there are lines at the pump."
The average price in Texas is $2.25 a gallon, but many cars have been flooded and driving is restricted by flooding, so demand is down. Dallas, however, saw prices rise 6 cents from Wednesday to an average of $2.37 Thursday.