Data confirms what many South Floridians might have guessed: the alarming impact of Hurricane Harvey in August likely motivated people to prepare early for Hurricane Irma last month. And that meant spending a lot of money. Think of it as plywood and Pop Tart spending.
Electronic payments processing company First Data found that spending increased 15.2 percent in South Florida in the week leading up to Hurricane Irma, Sept. 1-7, compared with the same week in 2016. It was money spent on getting homes ready, cars fueled up and cupboards stocked. Consumers spent 66.4 percent more on building materials, 63.2 percent more at gas stations and 41 percent more on groceries than last year.
"We saw what you'd expect: in the time waiting for the hurricane, spending went up," said Rishi Chhabra, the vice president of data analytics at First Data. "During the week of the hurricane, spending went down."
Compared with a year earlier, spending in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area was down 57.1 percent in the days just before Irma made landfall in the Lower Keys on Sept. 10. Not surprisingly, the hospitality industry took a big hit. Spending on food and restaurants was down 84.9 percent.
Chhabra says the data suggests Floridians prepared better for Hurricane Irma than Texans did for Hurricane Harvey.
"Spending went up more from a year-over-year growth perspective in Florida versus Houston," he said, "and then spending went down more during the week of the hurricane."
In the Houston metropolitan area, during the week before Harvey, spending rose 2.8 percent above 2016 levels. In contrast, as South Florida prepared for Irma, consumers spent 15.2 percent more than they did in 2016.
During the week Hurricane Harvey hovered over Texas, August 25-31, spending was down 29.9 percent in the Houston area. For the days leading up to and including Irma’s Florida landfall, spending in South Florida fell by almost twice that. And it continued to be weak in the days after the storm. First Data found South Florida consumer spending was down 33.7 percent the week following Irma.
The number of days being compared is slightly different, but for two consecutive weeks the magnitude of the decrease in South Florida's spending is far bigger than the spending drop Houston experienced. Chhabra says the message is clear: "People were shopping ahead of time or preparing ahead of time compared with Houston."
He thinks Floridians prepared more because they witnessed the destructive flooding in Texas.
Other findings from the analysis:
- Orlando was likely the top evacuation destination for Miami-area evacuees, followed by Tampa/St. Petersburg and Jacksonville.
- Pre-storm spending in Miami peaked during the afternoon of Tuesday, Sept. 5.