Before Hurricane Irma made landfall in Key West, FL on Sunday morning, Floridians hustled to make final preparations in case the hurricane took down critical transportation, communication, and power lines that keep modern life humming. That sent much of the state driving to gas stations to top up the tanks in the event an evacuation was needed. But many stations could not meet the sudden demand, so fuel shortages and miles-long queues became a reality.
Enter GasBuddy, an app that pulls people’s gas prices for bargain hunters. The app helps communities find good gas stations in the days leading up to Irma, receiving approval from Florida Governor Rick Scott last week. On Thursday it was downloaded 350,000 times, from the usual 30,000 installations of the application, such as Wall Street Journal.
GasBuddy even sent two of its gas analysts to the Florida capital to help lawmakers there figure out where to direct relief gas supplies. The company, which was founded in 2000, has previous experience disseminating information during crises such as superstorm Sandy in 2012, and the recent Hurricane Harvey in Texas.
Therefore, GasBuddy’s data is only as good as the information it collects from its users. The Boston-based company says it has 70 million downloads across the US, Canada, and Australia, and regularly sees 3 million updates each day. According to the WSJ, the number of daily gas reports from app users has increased in anticipation of Irma, but GasBuddy won’t say by how much. The company is trying to verify the data by discarding reports that are too far from the gas station in question.
On Thursday, GasBuddy called major chain gas stations in Florida to update their statuses through the work, so the communities will have a better understanding if the stations still have fuel and power. The application also rolled out a diesel-tracking service as well, which can prove helpful for emergency vehicles and electricity users.
As of 12:45pm ET, GasBuddy is news of 63 percent of gas stations in Miami/Fort Lauderdale out of gas, 64 percent lack of gas in Gainesville, and 60 percent were gas-less in Tampa Bay / St. Petersburg.
As Florida residents travel, their electrical grid will be tested by wind, rain, and fly debris. At 2:45 pm ET, 85 percent of Monroe County, in the southernmost part of Florida, was experience power outages (PDF). The percentage of residents and businesses without power is at 73 percent in the most populous Miami-Dade County, and at 61 percent in Broward County, home to Ft. Lauderdale.
But Irma’s westward direction on Saturday convinced Florida Power and Light (FPL) officials that they don’t need to take all four of the state’s nuclear reactors offline. FPL announced yesterday that it will take one of the two reactors at Turkey Point offline, and leave St. Lucie destroyed the plant up and running.
A Saturday Friday statement from FPL noted, “Beginning early Saturday morning, we successfully and safely shut down one of Turkey Point’s two nuclear reactors. As Irma’s path changed, the decision was made to leave the second reactor online, as hurricane-force winds were not expected at the site. We will adjust this plan, if needed, under weather conditions. “
The statement added, “At this time, it is not expected that the St. Lucie will be closed as a result of Irma, although we will be closely monitoring changing weather conditions.”
The utility originally planned to take all four nuclear plants offline due to hurricane conditions. Although nuclear generators can be shut down at a moment’s notice, a grid failure would stress Florida’s 40-year-old systems indefinitely. Turkey Point was hit by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 with no structural damage to the reactors, but that hurricane caused $90 million in utility damage.
Amendment: “Florida Light and Power” is amended to “Florida Power and Light.”
Image courtesy of Getty Images