Weather and Natural Disasters

Gas shortages, long lines worsen in North, South Carolina as Hurricane Florence nears

Nathan Bomey
A fuel dispenser stands out of service ahead of Hurricane Florence at a gas station in Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. 
Charles Mostoller | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Gasoline shortages are spreading in North and South Carolina as locals brace for the impact of Hurricane Florence or evacuate their communities.

While most stations still have fuel, some are running out and long lines have formed at others as supplies dry up.

In Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, 11 percent of stations are out of gas, according to fuel-station finding app GasBuddy. In Wilmington, North Carolina, 10.5 percent of stations are out.

Motorists lined up at a Carolina Petro station near the coast in Wilmington on Wednesday.

Margie Garrabrand was among them. "I have a home in town so I'll be staying in town," she said.

Outages are worsening in South Carolina, as well. In Charleston, 9.9 percent of stations don't have fuel.

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In both states, outages have more than doubled over the last 24 hours. In North Carolina, 4.8 percent of stations were out of fuel as of Wednesday morning, while 2.1 percent of stations were out in South Carolina, according to GasBuddy.

To be sure, analysts don't expect gasoline to be extremely hard to find as Florence barrels toward the coast.

But shortages are expected to get worse — especially in South Carolina — after new forecasts projected the storm would hit the state harder than expected.

When "more of the purchases are condensed" into a small window, "gas stations are not able to keep up," said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.

Drivers are on high alert after hurricanes caused temporary outages at stations in parts of Florida and Texas in 2017.

"You are seeing panic behavior by motorists," said Tom Kloza, analyst at Oil Price Information Service. "You're going to see stations that are out of gas because they're not used to seeing everyone looking to fill up."

In Swan Quarter, North Carolina, there is one gas station. Ryan's Garage on Main Street is near the Swan Quarter ferry terminal, where Outer Banks evacuees from Ocracoke have been arriving.

Ryan Marshall, the owner of Ryan's Garage, said the station normally has capacity for 2,000 gallons of fuel, but as of Wednesday morning, had fewer than 500 left. He is hopeful that the station will be able to receive one more delivery of 1,000 gallons of gas for the day, but that depends in part on the path of the storm.

Nationally, analysts don't expect Florence to cause a spike in gas prices – in part because refining capacity, much of which is concentrated in the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, is unlikely to be affected.

Prices averaged $2.84 nationally on Wednesday, according to AAA. That was steady from a week earlier.

DeHaan urged drivers not to fret about long-term problems. One key reason: The East Coast region that Florence is expected to affect doesn't have much gasoline refining. So even if the area gets hard hit, supplies will be available from other states. Stations that run out will get new shipments.

During these types of situations, the problem is the mad dash to fuel up causes short-term grief for motorists.

"It's like a church on Easter Sunday," Kloza said. "The church can't handle the crowd on Easter Sunday, but it can handle the crowd 364 days a year. So that's what we'll see now."