Capital Region

How Hurricane Irma is affecting travel plans here

Largest impact of either storm locally has been increase in gas prices
A grocery store is shuttered in advance of the arrival of Hurricane Irma in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 6, 2017.
A grocery store is shuttered in advance of the arrival of Hurricane Irma in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 6, 2017.

Hurricane Irma may be a long way from the Capital Region, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t having an impact already as it chugs a destructive path across the Caribbean.

Planned cruise vacations are being canceled or postponed, and a national flight system already hampered by Hurricane Harvey’s lingering impacts on Texas faces further disruptions, as the storm has busy south Florida in its crosshairs.

Albany International Airport has issued warnings that flights to Florida — the most popular flying destination out of Albany — could be canceled over the next few days. About one-third of the 1.4 million flyers who go out of Albany every year are going to Florida destinations. People planning to fly to Florida are being advised to check with their airlines.

The airlines serving the airport are generally letting customers change flights without any additional fee if they are flying to Florida or many Caribbean island destinations, if the ticket was purchased before Tuesday and is for travel between Tuesday and varying dates, some as late as Sept. 15.

Caribbean cruises are also being disrupted. Carnival and Disney Cruise Line late Tuesday joined Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line in canceling upcoming sailings out of Florida as Hurricane Irma bears down.

AAA books some cruises that have been canceled, and it still working with the cruise lines to determine whether customers will receive refunds or get re-booked, Northway AAA spokesman Eric Stigberg said.

Empress Travel & Cruises in Schenectady hasn’t had to deal with any clients who have lost cruises, owner Ed Plog said.

“We don’t do many cruises in the Caribbean in September anyway,” he said. “Where we’re running into a lot of extra work is with the airlines, with people who are wanting to go out at the end of the week.”

Empress has seen an impact from Hurricane Harvey, Plog said, because the agency books travel for a number of business customers who do business in the Houston area, which remains a disaster area nearly two weeks after the storm hit.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston was shut down by the high winds and widespread flooding from the storm, though it resumed limited operations as of Aug. 30, according to the airport’s website.

Gas prices rose anywhere from 25 cents to 44 cents per gallon across the country after Harvey, according to AAA. GasBuddy reported that the average price in the Albany region is $2.73 per gallon, up around 35 cents from before Harvey hit.

Stigberg said AAA initially underestimated the price impact of Harvey, probably because the disruption in the nation’s top oil-refining region was worse than anticipated. He said the current gas prices are the highest they’ve been since August 2015.

AAA says oil refineries shut down or damaged during Harvey are starting to come back online, but prices are likely to remain at their current levels through the end of September. Irma isn’t expected to have a significant effect on gas prices because there is little to no oil production or refining in southern Florida, where most forecasts say the storm will hit.

“As pipelines and refineries return to their full operations in the region, prices should start to decrease later in the month,” AAA said in a report released Tuesday.

There’s still also concern that Irma could take a different track from what forecasters think, and upset gas price predictions.

“If it does take a dip west and hit the refineries, that could have an impact,” Stigberg said.

People now in Florida, meanwhile, are making evacuation plans, and are leaving by both car and plane.

“I think you’ll see very busy roads with evacuations,” Stigberg said. “I would expect the roads north to be very busy.”

The largest impact of either storm locally has been the increase in gas prices, said James Booker, an economics professor at Siena College in Loudonville — but there are other economic impacts, including those on the travel industry.

“I would expect major disruptions starting [Thursday] and extending for a number of days in the airline market,” Booker said.

“Its impacts further north than Florida are too uncertain to predict at this point,” Booker said. “If Irma significantly impacts Atlanta, because of Atlanta’s importance as a hub, that would have a significant impact locally. Anyone from [the] Northeast looking to go to the Caribbean for the next week or so, that’s going to be nearly impossible.”

Siena will be hosting a panel discussion on hurricane prediction, responses and the public policy implications at 7 p.m. Monday in Roger Bacon Hall on the Loudonville campus, with Booker among the participants.

The National Weather Service in Albany has received telephone calls from people worried about a harsh visit from Irma.

“It’s a little uncertain right now. There are a lot of pieces of the puzzle that have yet to be solidified and have high confidence exactly what mechanisms will be steering the hurricane,” meteorologist Christina Speciale said. “With hurricanes, they’re steered by high pressure systems and low pressure systems, so there is quite a bit of uncertainty with how things will move around to steer it.”

Weather watchers in Albany will know more about Irma’s path this weekend. “We’ll have a better idea if and when the Northeast will see any impact from this tropical system,” Speciale said.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin contributed.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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