Miami shoppers outpace Houston in some pre-hurricane buying

NEW YORK (AP) — As Hurricane Irma heads toward Florida, shoppers in the Miami area increased their spending on gas, food and plywood to board up their homes at a higher rate than Houston residents did before Harvey, according to spending tracker First Data Corp.

The company’s experts, who track online and in-store payments on debit and credit cards, say it’s possible people learned a lesson from Harvey.

Rishi Chhabra, vice president of information and analytics at First Data, said that around Miami, gas spending spiked almost 80 percent this past Monday and Tuesday compared to the same days a year ago. He says building supplies like plywood are seeing similar increases.

Hurricane Irma is expected to reach Florida over the weekend. Harvey initially came ashore in South Texas on Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane, then went back out to sea and lingered off the coast as a tropical storm for days. In the week before Harvey hit the Houston area, Aug. 18-24, spending on gas was up 13.4 percent from the year-ago period, Chhabra noted.

In the Houston area, overall spending — which includes gas, restaurants and leisure activities like movies — dropped nearly 30 percent for the week of Aug. 25 to Aug. 31 compared to a year ago. Retail spending, which excludes gas spending but includes categories like clothing and home furnishings, was down even more, at 43.7 percent, according to First Data, which tracked data from more than 78,000 merchants in and around Houston, the fourth-largest U.S. city.