With Hurricane Harvey barreling toward the energy-rich Texas Gulf Coast, gasoline prices could tick upward at the end of the summer driving season as refineries shut down capacity to brace for impact.
Experts are expecting anywhere from a 5-cent to 15-cent increase in the price of a gallon of gasoline over the next week as Harvey forces refineries in its path to take precautionary measures to prevent damages.
The storm would have to get much more severe than its current classification as a Category 3 hurricane to do much damage to gasoline refineries, analysts said.
But expected refinery closures in places like Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas, are still expected to have an impact, potentially disrupting supplies and increasing prices.
Nationally, the average price of gas was $2.36 per gallon on Thursday afternoon, up 1.9 cents from a week ago and up 16.2 cents from a year ago, according to consumer information site GasBuddy.com.
"Obviously if a refinery is underwater it can’t do a whole lot to produce gasoline," GasBuddy petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan said. "It’s just a matter of time before they start curtailing production at those refineries."
About one-third of the nation's gasoline refining capacity is located in the Gulf Coast region.
Oil Price Information Service analyst Tom Kloza said it's "not likely to be an apocalyptic or seminal event" for energy, but noted that it's already triggered a 6-cent leap in gas prices in the Gulf region.
Hurricane Katrina was the last storm to significantly undermine U.S. gasoline supplies, Kloza said.
Although rain can cause short-term outages, wind and storm surge pose the greatest risk of long-term damage, Kloza said.
But storms that cause major disruption are a "very rare bird," he said.
Even with winds projected in the range of more than 90 mph, "it doesn’t look like wind should be too much of an issue in terms of long-term damage," DeHaan said.
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