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September 13, 2018

Hurricane Florence likely to affect Southeast U.S. electric power, transportation fuels

Update: EIA has begun issuing a Hurricane Florence Status Report. EIA will issue reports twice a day at about 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. or once a day at 5:00 p.m. as conditions warrant.

energy disruption tracking Hurricane Florence
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Energy Disruptions Map

Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall near the area of Wilmington, North Carolina, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina as a Category 2 storm on Friday. The storm’s high winds and heavy rainfall are likely to affect energy infrastructure throughout the region, particularly for electricity transmission and distribution, while widespread evacuations and disruptions to normal business operations could alter electricity demand and supply and demand patterns for transportation fuels.

EIA's Energy Disruptions map shows hurricane-related map layers from the National Hurricane Center and EIA's map layers for energy-related infrastructure such as high-voltage transmission lines, power plants, and petroleum bulk terminals.

As part of the U.S. Electric System Operating Data tool, EIA collects hourly electric load data for each of the 66 balancing authorities in the Lower 48 states. Provided that balancing authorities are still able to transmit information to EIA, the effects of Hurricane Florence on electric load may be apparent. Last September, Hurricane Irma resulted in electricity demand in Florida falling to 64% lower than typical levels for that time of year because of widespread outages.

EIA’s Nuclear Outages status page maintains the daily status of each of the nation’s 60 nuclear power plants, based on plant reports to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. As of the morning of Thursday, September 13, 2 of the 11 nuclear power plants in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Virginia were operating at slightly reduced levels: one unit of the Brunswick plant (operating at 88% of capacity) and one unit of the McGuire plant (99%), both of which are in North Carolina. In 2017, nuclear power provided 36% of the electricity generated in those four states.

EIA’s transportation fuels data are generally collected at the Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) level. The six states in the Lower Atlantic region (defined as PADD 1C) represented approximately 17% of total U.S. motor gasoline consumption and approximately 14% of total U.S. ultra-low sulfur diesel (the main type of distillate used in transportation) consumption in 2017, according to EIA’s prime supplier sales volumes.

No substantial quantities of transportation fuels are produced by refineries located between Alabama and Delaware. As discussed in EIA's study of transportation fuel markets in the East Coast and Gulf Coast, the inland markets of the Lower Atlantic region are primarily supplied by refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast through the Colonial and Plantation pipelines and supplemented by marine shipments from the U.S. Gulf Coast and imports from other countries.

Unlike the rest of the Lower Atlantic region, Florida is primarily supplied by marine shipments from coastwise-compliant ships originating from the Gulf Coast and imports from other countries. For the rest of the states in the Lower Atlantic, limited imports from the global market and Gulf Coast refineries could supply parts of the region that are near deep-water ports such as Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; Wilmington, North Carolina; and Norfolk, Virginia. The largest potential threat to petroleum supplies in this region is the risk of disrupted pipeline operations because of power outages or flood-related damage to pumps.

product supply southeast
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, East Coast and Gulf Coast Transportation Fuels Markets

Typically, demand for transportation fuels increases rapidly in the days before the arrival of a hurricane in the affected areas as consumers make fuel purchases in preparation for evacuation. This rapid, unexpected increase in demand puts pressure on the inventories available locally, because the rest of the supply chain has not had time to respond.

For the week ending Friday September 7, Lower Atlantic inventories of gasoline in the primary supply chain were 27.9 million barrels, or 10% higher than the previous five-year average for that time of year. At the same time, Lower Atlantic inventories of distillate were 12.5 million barrels, or 5% lower than the five-year average. For these fuels, inventory levels include volumes at refineries, bulk terminals and blenders, and in pipelines. EIA does not survey inventories held at retail stations.

lower atlantic total gasoline and distillate inventories
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Weekly Petroleum Status Report

On September 10, the average retail price of regular gasoline in the Lower Atlantic was $2.67 per gallon, and on-highway diesel fuel prices averaged $3.13 per gallon. After the hurricane, retail prices of gasoline and diesel will be influenced by their limited availability at local distribution terminals and the time needed for resupply. If the region’s normal supply chain is disrupted, the additional costs of using alternative supply routes may also increase retail gasoline and diesel prices.

Principal contributors: Mason Hamilton, Owen Comstock, Mike Mobilia