Evacuees who fled Hurricanes Irma and Harvey are beginning to leave North Carolina, contributing to traffic on southbound I-95 and I-77.
They face the additional hardship of high gasoline prices across the state after the back-to-back storms interrupted fuel production and transmission.
AAA Carolinas Spokeswoman Tiffany Wright said it’s hard to know exactly how many people fled to the Carolinas and are now hitting the road and filling up their tanks before heading home.
“That's all going to dictate on what we're going to see price-wise and how quickly they're going to come down,” Wright said, adding she expects prices to return to pre-storm levels sometime in October.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma disrupted oil refineries and transport logistics in the Gulf of Mexico. The website GasBuddy.com reports that North Carolinians are paying an average of $2.63 per gallon.
Petroleum Analyst Patrick DeHaan says the worst is over.
“Much of the logistical challenges have been sorted out. Refiners are getting back online,” DeHaan said. “More importantly, Colonial Pipeline is sending gasoline up the Northeast, so, expect a gradual drop of maybe 30-to-40 cents-a-gallon over the next month, month-and-a-half or so.”
DeHaan said despite the temporary drop in refining capacity, North Carolina has not experienced a fuel shortage.
Wright, of AAA Carolinas, said gas prices generally drop after Labor Day.
“The summer driving season ends, demand goes down,” she said. “We switch over to the winter blend of fuel which is less costly. So all of those factors are the perfect recipe, if you will, for prices to go down. Unfortunately… it hasn't been as fast because we've had two natural disasters back-to-back.”