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AAA: Few Idahoans will be deterred by post-eclipse gas pump prices and hurricane aftermath

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Posted at 12:01 PM, Aug 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-31 14:01:57-04

“Post-eclipse” gas pump prices are still climbing across Idaho, amid high local demand -- but higher prices and tight Gulf Coast supplies due to Hurricane Harvey are unlikely to derail Labor Day plans to visit family and friends, according to the American Automobile Association.

“Hurricane Harvey has poured a record amount of rainfall -– 51 inches -– on the Houston area,” said AAA Idaho spokesman Matthew Conde. “Several refineries are offline, and the extent of the damage isn’t known at this time. While a ripple effect will lead to higher gas prices in some parts of the country and a higher national average price, current information suggests higher pump prices in the Gem State will be more a result of high travel demand than supply issues.”

AAA expects Hurricane Harvey to generate a short-term, noticeable spike in national average gas prices – which should start dropping again in mid-to-late September, barring extensive refinery damage, experts said.

Today’s U.S. average price for gasoline is $2.40. If Texas refineries are down for an extended period of time, the national average could climb above $2.50 a gallon, the highest price since August 28, 2015.

At $2.75 a gallon, Idaho motorists are paying 29 cents more today than last year, and prices could reach $2.85 per gallon in the coming days.  “The last time prices were that high for Labor Day was September 2015. Even so, prices are considerably lower than they were from 2011 to 2014,” Conde said.

“Strong travel demand throughout the summer has kept upward pressure on gas prices across the Rockies region,” he added. “This summer, eclipse travel injected an extra burst of demand for Idaho fuel that has carried over into Labor Day weekend.”

Many parts of the Gem State were in the eclipse path of totality, motivating drivers inside and outside of Idaho to purchase the fuel necessary to reach a prime viewing area.

“The recent, rare eclipse event casts some uncertainty on Labor Day travel projections,” Conde said.  “On one hand, some people stayed home to avoid eclipse traffic and congestion -- and they may take the opportunity to celebrate Labor Day as usual. On the other hand, some of those that did travel may be less inclined to take another trip over the holiday.  This year, many Americans are willing to finance their summer travel through debt, but motorists will decide when enough is enough.”

AAA officials note that price increases do not currently reflect a shortage of gasoline supplies in the Gulf Coast region, but rather distribution capability. Overall stocks in the Gulf are above average levels, and will be available to drivers once power and refinery systems are restored and area roads are cleared.

In a typical year, historical data supports the prediction that around 35 million Americans will make one last journey before the summer ends.  Almost 90 percent of them will travel by car.

“Many Idahoans take advantage of the warm weather to have one last outdoor adventure close to home,” Conde pointed out.  “With most kids back in school, families often look for a quick getaway to camp, swim, hike, or ride ATVs.”