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Harvey pushed up Carolinas gas prices. Will Irma do the same?

Dollie Chase inserts her card to pay for gas at a Walmart in Tyler, Texas, last week. In North Carolina, gas prices are at a 2-year peak because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey.
Dollie Chase inserts her card to pay for gas at a Walmart in Tyler, Texas, last week. In North Carolina, gas prices are at a 2-year peak because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey. AP

Gas prices are at a 2-year peak in North Carolina because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Meanwhile, the path that Hurricane Irma will take – and whether possible evacuations in North and South Carolina will affect local fuel prices or cause shortages – remains unclear.

N.C. residents paid an average of $2.62 per gallon on Monday, up 37 cents in a week, according to AAA Carolinas, an automotive association.

Meanwhile, S.C. residents averaged $2.52 per gallon, the highest average in nearly 3 years.

Those high prices are a direct result from Hurricane Harvey, which hit the Houston, Texas area and caused record rainfalls and flooding.

Hurricane Harvey caused about 26 percent of the nation’s refining capacity to go offline, said Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy, an app that tracks fuel prices.

“That’s a sizable disruption to a delicate balance of supply and demand,” DeHaan said.

Meanwhile, looming Hurricane Irma is threatening to hit the Caribbean and possibly the East Coast. But that path would be unlikely to cause direct damage to oil refineries as Hurricane Harvey did.

Still, Hurricane Irma could lead to fuel shortages and higher gas prices if it triggers widespread evacuations, experts said Tuesday.

“If there’s a million people hitting the road at once to evacuate, that could be a challenge,” DeHaan said.

Evacuations lead to more motorists filling up their tanks, said Tiffany Wright, spokeswoman for AAA Carolinas.

“They’re going to be filling up at a very rapid pace,” she said

Wright estimated that gas prices could stay high through the end of the month, which is unusual for this time of year.

Driving season just wrapped up with Labor Day, Wright said, adding fuel switches over to a cheaper winter blend as well.

Still, there is some relief for drivers: The biggest price increases have already hit, DeHaan said.

He estimated that drivers could see prices start to fall as soon as the middle of next week depending on what happens with Hurricane Irma.

Cassie Cope: @CassieLCope

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