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Business, STEM

On Watch for Hurricane Florence and Gas Price Gouging

Hurricane Florence Viewed from the ISS

View of Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station [photo credits, Astronaut Ricky Arnold, 09.20.2018]

Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall on the North Carolina coast between Thursday night, September 13th, and Friday morning, September 14, 2018. It’s been more than a minute since I have ridden out a hurricane, but I am about to do a reboot with this force of nature. As Hurricane Florence is making a path towards the Carolinas, residents who live in the coastal region of each state are on the move as mandatory evacuation orders have been issued. Hurricane Florence has been categorized as a “monster storm” or “storm of a life time”.

When strong winds blow, it’s a good time to take a look at gas prices. About two weeks ago, an update on gas prices was provided on this blog as we entered the Labor Day Holiday Weekend. Two weeks ago, the average price for a gallon of gasoline was $2.844 and showed a slight uptick of a half a cent as we entered the last three-day weekend of this summer. As expected gas prices were expected to fall following the Labor Day Holiday and they did. On September 4, 2018, GasBuddy.com reported that the national average price for a gallon of gasoline had fallen 1.4 cents in the last week, closing out the summer driving season at an average of $2.82.

Fast-forward to today and here are the gas price stats (Source: GasBuddy.com):

$2.837 Today
$2.838 Yesterday
$2.858 Last Week
$2.852 Last Month
$2.651 Last Year

One can see that that gas prices are steady over the last 24-hours. U.S. gas prices are also relatively stable for this time of year. It’s post Labor-Day and many refineries are beginning the process of changing their operations from summer to winter production….and then a pending natural disaster enters the fray. The reality of this situation is currently an unknown: what impact if any will Hurricane Florence have on the gasoline supply in the Carolinas and possibly the mid-Atlantic region of the United States?

At this point, let’s take a look at gasoline prices in South Carolina (Source: GasBuddy.com):

$2.576 Today
$2.581 Yesterday
$2.562 Last Week
$2.553 Last Month
$2.551 Last Year

Interestingly, prices are also steady over the last 24 hours (- 0.5 ¢) and that is the good news so far as many residents are in the process of evacuating to other parts of the state or the southeastern region, and/or filling up their gas tanks to ensure that they have fuel for the next five (5) to seven (7) days. This has resulted in some service stations running out of gas, but so far there has been no reports of gas price gouging.

Price gouging is a pejorative term referring to when a seller spikes the prices of goods, services or commodities to a level much higher than is considered reasonable or fair, and is considered exploitative, potentially to an unethical extent. [Source: Wikipedia] Similarly, gas price gouging is a practice that involves raising prices at the pump dramatically and some-times in collusion with other gas stations.

Another point of good news is that North and South Carolina each have state statutes against price gouging. According to South Carolina’s attorney general, Alan Wilson, the law essentially prohibits what are deemed “unconscionable” prices during times of disaster and remains in effect until the state of emergency expires or is otherwise terminated. Price gougers face a charge of excessive pricing, which is a misdemeanor punishable with a $1,000 fine and possibly 30 days in jail. Governor Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency to allow state employees and residents to prepare for the Hurricane Florence on this past Saturday, September 8. 2018. This triggered the state’s “Price Gouging During Emergency” law.

Potential price gougers can and may have an even greater opportunity to defraud members of the public in those hours and days following the impact of Hurricane Florence. Once again, there’s good news for this scenario: It’s easier than ever for consumers to report potential cases of price gouging. With a smart phone, a member of the public can take a snapshot of these outrageous prices and in less than a minute, transfer them to South Carolina’s Consumer Affairs agency via email or Twitter in just a few seconds. Buyers should beware, and merchants should be very, very aware of price gouging laws, especially during a state emergency.

For those of you who live or may be traveling in the southeastern United States, stay safe and dry because…we are in for the storm of a lifetime.

Happy motoring!

About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.


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