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Data Shows Hurricane Harvey May Have Influenced Floridians' Preparations For Irma

Shoppers at a BJ's in Miami stock up on supplies before Hurricane Irma.
Roberto Koltun
Miami Herald
Shoppers at a BJ's in Miami stock up on supplies before Hurricane Irma.

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.

You can read the First Data report on Florida's Irma spending here and the report on Houston's Harvey spending here.

Credit First Data
First Data

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Kate Stein can't quite explain what attracts her to South Florida. It's more than just the warm weather (although this Wisconsin native and Northwestern University graduate definitely appreciates the South Florida sunshine). It has a lot to do with being able to travel from the Everglades to Little Havana to Brickell without turning off 8th Street. It's also related to Stein's fantastic coworkers, whom she first got to know during a winter 2016 internship.Officially, Stein is WLRN's environment, data and transportation journalist. Privately, she uses her job as an excuse to rove around South Florida searching for stories à la Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan. Regardless, Stein speaks Spanish and is always thrilled to run, explore and read.
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