Before Hurricane Irma made landfall in Key West, FL on Sunday morning, Floridians hustled to make final preparations in case the storm severed an of the critical transportation, communication, and power lines that keep modern life humming. That sent much of the state driving to gas stations to top off tanks in the event an escape was required. But many stations couldn’t meet the sudden demand, so fuel shortages and miles-long lines fast became a reality.
Enter GasBuddy, an app that crowd-sources gas prices for bargain hunters. The app helped locals search for well-stocked gas stations in the days leading up to Irma, earning an endorsement from Florida Governor Rick Scott last week. On Thursday it was downloaded 350,000 times, up from the app’s usual 30,000 installations, according to the Wall Street Journal.
GasBuddy even sent two of its gas analysts to Florida’s state capitol 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 like superstorm Sandy in 2012, and the recent Hurricane Harvey in Texas.
Of course, the data that GasBuddy has is only as good as the information it gets from its users. The Boston-based company says it has nearly 70 million downloads throughout 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 wouldn’t say by how much. The company tries to verify data by discarding reports that come from too far away from the gas station in question.
On Thursday, GasBuddy called on large chain gas stations in Florida to update their own statuses through the service, so locals would have a better sense of whether the stations still had fuel and power. The app also rolled out a diesel-tracking function as well, which may prove helpful for emergency transport vehicles and generator users.
As of 12:45pm ET, GasBuddy was reporting that 63 percent of gas stations in Miami/Fort Lauderdale were out of gas, 64 percent lacked gas in Gainesville, and 60 percent were gas-less in Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg.
As Florida residents hunker down, their electrical grid will be tested by wind, rain, and flying debris. As of 2:45pm ET, 85 percent of Monroe County, at the most southern tip of Florida, was experiencing power outages (PDF). The percentage of residents and businesses without power held at 73 percent in the more populated Miami-Dade County, and at 61 percent in Broward County, home to Ft. Lauderdale.
But the westward direction of Irma on Saturday convinced Florida Power and Light (FPL) officials that they didn’t need to take all four of the state’s nuclear reactors offline. FPL announced yesterday that it would only take one reactor of the two at Turkey Point offline, and leave the St. Lucie nuclear plant up and running.
A Saturday afternoon statement from FPL noted, “Beginning early Saturday morning, we conservatively 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 no longer expected at the site. We will adjust this plan, if needed, subject to weather conditions.”
The statement added, “At this time, it is not expected that the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant will shut down as a result of Irma, though we will closely monitor the changing weather conditions.”
The utility originally planned to take all four nuclear plants offline due to hurricane conditions. Although nuclear generators can shut down at a moment’s notice, grid failure would stress Florida’s 40-year-old systems unnecessarily. Turkey Point bore the brunt of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 without structural damage to the reactors, but that hurricane ultimately caused $90 million worth of auxiliary damage.
Correction: “Florida Light and Power” was corrected to “Florida Power and Light.”
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