While Florida is not in the path of Hurricane Harvey, the storm’s effects could be felt as early as next week, both outdoors and at the gas pump.
Harvey is forecast to strengthen to a Category-3 storm before reaching south or central Texas late Friday night or early Saturday morning,the first hurricane to hit Texas since 2008, when Ike crashed ashore near Galveston killing 21 people in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas, and causing widespread destruction.
What may happen in the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama, according to Jason Beaman at the National Weather Service in Mobile, is up in the air for now.
“Right now, the main threat for the local area, starting Friday basically through the weekend, is increased rip currents along area beaches,” said meteorologist Jason Beaman at the National Weather Service in Mobile. “A lot of wave energy is being produced by Hurricane Harvey, and that will start to make its way up to our beaches.”
There’s actually some drier air moving into the region from the northeast, with just a small chance of showers and thunderstorms here this weekend. Beaman says for now, it’s virtually impossible to gauge just where Harvey’s impact will be felt after landfall.
“It’s basically going to stall for several days; the steering currents are going to collapse,” Beaman said. “And it’s just going to meander over Texas through at least the weekend. There is a chance it could get pulled off to the northeast by the middle of next week, but we’re not even certain of that at this point.”
The high pressure building over the Panhandle is causing Harvey to move more to the west for the time being. And not all effects from Hurricane Harvey is limited to the beaches.
“A lot of people don’t realize that all the gasoline that comes into the state of Florida is brought in by a tanker ship; and a lot of that gasoline comes from refineries along the Gulf of Mexico,” said Mark Jenkins with AAA South in Tampa.
Nearly half of U.S. refining capacity sits on the Gulf Coast, and about one-third of that appears to be in Harvey's path.
“So obviously, there’s a lot a stake here with this hurricane heading towards these refineries,” Jenkins said. “The concern right now is what sort of effect this hurricane is going to have on these refineries. Will they shut down, how long will they be down, when will they recover and get online and fully operational?”
While Florida has the ability to get fuel from other refineries in Louisiana and Mississippi, Jenkins says just the threat of a hurricane also puts upper pressure on gas prices. But he adds that likely won’t last.
“This storm is coming at a time when we’re reaching the tail-end of the summer travel season,” says Jenkins. “During the fall and winter months we normally see gas prices declining. Once this hurricane leaves the area, refineries get back online [and] everything returns to normal, I would expect gas prices to start declining.”
If there’s a silver lining inside Hurricane Harvey for the local area, forecaster Jason Beaman says it’s a reminder for those living along the Gulf Coast to update their emergency plan – or make one.
“Know if you’re in an evacuation zone; know if you’re prone to storm surge, [and] know where you would go if a hurricane were to come your way,” said Beaman. “Have all those things in order. That way, if a hurricane does come our way, it reduces some of the stress because you know you have a plan in place.”
Also monitoring Hurricane Harvey is the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network (FPREN). Meteorologist Jeff Huffman says of more concern now is the tropical wave called Invest 92 in the eastern Gulf, which is more likely to move over the Florida peninsula by early next week.