Hurricane Nate slowed down the drop in metro Atlanta gas prices

Oct 10, 2017
Any huge storm that slams through the Gulf of Mexico is a threat to metro Atlanta’s fuel supply. But Hurricane Nate (pictured here) didn’t disrupt the fuel system the way Irma and Harvey did. AJC File Photo.

Unlike the two prior storms, Hurricane Nate seems to have been just a speed bump on the road to lower gas prices in metro Atlanta.

Nate, which weakened to a tropical depression over the weekend, had slashed through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, soaking much of Georgia in passing, but it had minimal impact on gas production and distributions.

At most it slowed the drop in prices.

That pattern of falling prices in the autumn has not changed, said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analyst for Gas Buddy. “With hurricane season past its prime, it’s just a matter of time before gas prices return to pre-Harvey levels.”

The price of gas typically drops through most of the fall, hitting a yearly low in late winter. While gas prices now are well above their levels of a year ago, the seasonal slide has slowly begun.

The average price of regular gasoline in metro Atlanta on Tuesday was $2.52 a gallon, down nine cents from a week ago.

The current price is still 30 cents a gallon higher than it was in late August, but it has fallen from the highs of early September when gas was averaging $2.81 a gallon in metro Atlanta.

Those highs came in the wake of the damage and disruption caused by Nate’s predecessors: Harvey which pounded Texas and Irma, which smashed through the Caribbean, Florida and Georgia.

The two huge storms closed and damaged refineries, shut down oil rigs and cut dramatically into the flow of fuel being pumped from the Texas coast by Alpharetta-based Colonial Pipeline.

Not this time.

While the storms and rain from Nate were significant, the impact on the fuel network was temporary and minimal.

All being equal – that is, unless there’s another hurricane or a new war in the Middle East — experts expect the price will soon resume its seasonal slide, though it may not reach the lows of the past two years.

Last winter, gas bottomed out at $2.10 a gallon. The year before it hit a late-winter low of $1.63 a gallon.

“There is some ‘noise’ in the background that may slow the drop,” DeHaan said.

For instance, some of the world’s big oil producers are talking about extending cuts to production that helped prop up global prices.

But those kinds of deals are virtually unenforceable. Every producer wants to let someone else cut back on production and forgo profits to push prices up. So there is a “limited chance” that prices will dip slightly below $2 a gallon at some stations, DeHaan said.

Current metro Atlanta prices range from $2.24 a gallon at several Lawrenceville stations up to $2.99 at some retailers in the city of Atlanta, according to Gas Buddy’s AtlantaGasPrices.

Georgia pump prices are 23 cents more per gallon than at this time last year, according to AAA.

The highest prices paid came in 2008, after Hurricane Ike, when a gallon of gasoline averaged $4.16 a gallon, said AAA.