May 30, 2024

New York

More than half of gas stations in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area were without gasoline Wednesday after flooding from last week’s massive storm caused a wave of panic buying by drivers topping off their gas tanks.

“I would estimate that 80% of [station closings] are due to panic buying,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, which tracks station closings and gas prices.

A storm dumped 20 inches of rain on Fort Lauderdale in just one day last Wednesday, causing widespread flooding and some disruptions to operations at Port Everglades in that city, where a significant portion of gasoline for the region comes through a dozen different gas terminals.

Data from GasBuddy showed that 59% of stations in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market were closed Wednesday, up from about 20% on Sunday. Other nearby markets are also reporting station outages, including 31% of stations in the West Palm Beach-Fort Pierce market and 4% of stations in the Fort Myers-Naples market.

But much of the shortages and closures that followed came because of a surge in demand caused by drivers rushing to stations that were still open, rather than the lack of supply.

“it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy, people see the gas lines, and they think they should fill up,” said De Haan.

This phenomenon of people rushing to buy gas and causing shortages is common after other supply disruptions, including following the ransomware attack that temporarily shut the Colonial Pipeline back in 2021.

“This is true everywhere. People lose their minds when there’s one station with a closed pump,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis for OPIS, which tracks gas prices for AAA. “There’s panic. Nobody wants to give up their mobility.”

The good news is that things are starting to improve at Port Everglades, which reports that nine out of 12 gas terminals are reporting operations have recovered from last week’s severe flooding and are distributing gas and diesel to retailers.

Stations in South Florida are also getting supplied from gas terminals in the northern part of the state, and the Florida Highway Patrol tweeted Wednesday that it is providing escorts to some of the trucks.

But the even better news is that with full tanks, drivers will not need to fill up in the coming days as they normally might have, and the panic buying is likely to subside.

“We just have to wait for it to happen,” said De Haan. He expected most of the closed stations to be reopened by the weekend.

Kloza agrees with that time frame.

“Stations have very shallow inventories of gasoline. Most need a delivery every two or three days,” he said. “But just as those shallow inventories can run out very quickly, they can be refilled very quickly. This too shall pass.”